Arab parties battle boycotts, anger, rain for votes

Arab and Arab-Jewish parties that compete for the votes of Israeli Arabs had to contend on Tuesday with passionate calls to boycott the elections, feelings of anger and frustration over the military operation in Gaza and growing frustration with their perceived lack of influence on the political system. They also had to contend with Mother Nature. As heavy rains pounded Israel's largest Muslim city, Umm El-Fahm, MK Jamal Zahalka (Balad) was seen mingling with voters and residents at a local polling center with one mission in mind. "I tell people that the extreme right doesn't want us in the Knesset," Zahalka told The Jerusalem Post. "Our response is that more people should vote and vote for Balad." Zahalka said that he and other supporters were going from polling station to polling station, making telephone calls and even going door to door to encourage people to vote and "to not be afraid of the rain. "People aren't enthusiastic to go out and vote, so when there is a little rain, people prefer to stay at home," he said, noting that voter turnout among Arab-Israelis has been decreasing over the years. "We tell them voting is easy; it's not complicated. You have to get in your car, come and go home." Only 56 percent of Arab-Israelis cast their vote in the 2006 general elections. His message to potential voters, he said, was that voting strengthens the representation of the Arab public and strengthens the Arab public itself. An Arab-Israeli woman, who identified herself only as Kafeh, was one of the few women to be seen at a polling station in Umm el-Fahm on Tuesday. The 40-year-old, who works as a special education teacher in Nazareth Illit, said she had just voted for an Arab party but declined to state which one. She said voting is something that is required of all citizens, Jewish or Arab. "We live in the State of Israel, and we must vote," she said, noting that she always votes in national elections. She said she does not belong to any party, and has even voted for Jewish parties in the past. "I see whatever party is best and I vote for them," she said. But Kafeh acknowledged that she was among a minority of women from her town who consider it important to vote. Women "prefer to stay in the kitchen. They cook, do dishes, eat," she said. "This is what women are good at in Umm el-Fahm." Taxi driver Ali Mahajneh, who works for the Jewish-Arab party Hadash, was busy transporting voters to and from the polling stations. Mahajneh said he would probably vote for Hadash, and not just because he is employed by the party. He said he wanted to support Afo Agbaria, who is No. 4 on the party's list and a native of Umm el-Fahm. He also likes the fact that the party calls for equality between Jews and Arabs. "It has both Jewish and Arab candidates," he said. But several other residents said they were not planning to vote at all. Twenty-six-year old Ahmed Mahajneh, a waiter, said he saw no point. "I don't believe that the Arab parties in the Knesset have the ability to make change in society," he said. "The change will not come from there... They don't have any influence at all."