Arab, Druse voters crucial in Kadima race

Like during Labor primaries in 2007, Arab and Druse sector could prove essential for Kadima candidates.

arab woman, child vote (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
arab woman, child vote
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
The votes of thousands of Arab and Druse Labor Party members decided who would be defense minister in the June 2007 Labor leadership race that was won by Ehud Barak despite his challenger Ami Ayalon's Jewish majority. Now Kadima officials say that the same thing could happen with the leadership race next month. The race for Kadima chairman could end up deciding who will be the next prime minister, and the vote is expected to be very close. The official breakdown of Kadima's 72,000 members has not been tabulated since the party's membership drive ended last Thursday. But the four Kadima leadership candidates all boasted large registration drives in the non-Jewish sector. Deputy Foreign Minister Majallie Whbee, who supports Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, boasted this week that he alone had registered 13,000 new Arab and Druse Kadima members. He traveled with Livni in the Druse town of Mughar on Tuesday and is expected to take her to Shfaram, Julis and other non-Jewish communities next week. Livni's associates said Environmental Protection Minister Gideon Ezra had also signed up a large number of Druse who support Livni and that Kadima chairmanship candidate Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit had also been very active in that sector. Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz's campaign said Druse who served under Mofaz in the IDF had signed up thousands for him as well. The fourth candidate in the race, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, went to Rahat in the Negev on Wednesday to attend the funeral of the brother of the Beduin town's mayor, Talal el-Irkanawi, the deputy head of the Kadima council. Dichter's associates said he had registered a few thousand new non-Jewish Kadima members, including 1,000 Beduin. Channel 2 reported Wednesday that in several non-Jewish towns there were more Kadima members than had voted for the party in the last election. For instance, in Mughar, Kadima received less than 100 votes, but there are now 800 Kadima members in the Druse town in the lower Galilee. Sources familiar with the results of the drive said that every campaign was exaggerating its results in every sector, especially in the non-Jewish one, where one source said there were only 6,000 members in total. The official results of the drive are not expected to be released until next week. A source in Mofaz's campaign said the results would prove that Livni supporters were the most blatant offenders in signing up masses who would not vote for Kadima, despite reports saying that his own people had brought in crates full of membership forms. "The membership drive is over," Mofaz told Army Radio. "Every [candidate] can examine themselves, period. I had a membership drive just like everyone else did." In the interview, Mofaz confirmed reports that he had been telling Kadima MKs that they should consider not endorsing any candidate in the race rather than backing Livni. "Some MKs will be with me, some with others, and some will wait for the results of the race," he said. "If there are those who wait on the fence, it's legitimate. If there are some who endorse me or another candidate, it's natural and democratic. There is no problem." Mofaz demonstrated on Wednesday that while he may not have support in Kadima's Knesset faction, he is strong among the party's mayors. Twenty of them came to an event with Mofaz in Rishon Lezion organized by the city's mayor, Meir Nitzan, including the mayors of Haifa, Ramat Gan, Acre, Beersheba, Kiryat Malachi, Rosh Pina, Metula and Mofaz's home town of Kochav Yair. The campaigns of Mofaz's rivals scoffed at the turnout, saying that he had promised that 30 mayors would come and that some who had showed up did not in fact support Mofaz. Kadima officials said rival candidates had pressured mayors not to attend the event. Sheetrit also has the support of many mayors, including the head of the Council of Local Authorities in Israel, Karmiel Mayor Adi Eldar. Livni's campaign said she had the support of just as many mayors as Mofaz, including the mayors of Rosh Ha'ayin, Hof Sharon, Gedera, Abu Ghosh, Oranit and Alfei Menashe. Mofaz attacked Livni in his speech to the mayors, saying they were more experienced than her in dealing with crises. "You mayors know what's important," he said, contrasting them with Livni. "You have learned to use good judgment in decisions that impact people's lives and how to withstand pressure with your experience in dealing with difficult crises."