Arab parties urge constituents to vote

Lieberman has been strengthened on a ticket of hatred towards Israeli Arabs, declares Ahmed Tibi.

tibi 248.88 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
tibi 248.88 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Amid calls to boycott the Knesset elections and increasing frustration in the Arab-Israeli sector following Israel's three-week offensive against Hamas in Gaza, Arab parties and politicians are ramping up their efforts to urge constituents to vote on February 10. "Our message is to go out and vote - and not to vote for Zionist parties, to avoid rewarding the Right, which wants a Knesset without Arabs and wants the whole country to be without Arabs," said United Arab List (UAL) chairman Ahmed Tibi on Tuesday. "There is no doubt that [Defense Minister Ehud] Barak has been strengthened because of the war, at the expense of the killing in Gaza. [Israel Beiteinu Chair Avigdor] Lieberman has been strengthened on a ticket of hatred towards Israeli Arabs. Both are immoral," Tibi declared. The UAL chairman said his party was doing its best to increase voter turnout this year, but recognized the challenges posed to it by Israel's recent operation in Gaza. "For some, the war pushes them to vote, while for others, it makes them feel more frustration," and thus not vote, he said. Voter participation among Israel's Arab sector has generally decreased over the last 60 years. Last year, Arab voter participation was about 56 percent, as opposed to some 80% in 1950. While the northern branch of the Islamic Movement, headed by Sheikh Raed Salah, does not vote or participate in national elections for ideological reasons, this is the first time the movement has called upon all Israeli Arabs to boycott an election, said Mohanad Mustafa, a doctoral student in political science at the University of Haifa. This call is expected to have an impact on turnout."[The Islamic Movement] has a certain popularity within the Arab sector," he said. The nationalist Arab movement Bnei Kfar is also actively calling for a boycott of this year's elections, as it has done in previous Knesset elections. "The parliament is not a parliament of Arabs, not of Palestinians," said Bnei Kfar Secretary-General Muhammad Kna'ana. "This parliament was established at the expense of our people… If we vote, it's as if we're giving legitimacy to our people's occupation." But MK Hanna Sweid of Hadash said his joint Arab-Jewish party has launched an intensive campaign to encourage people not only to vote, but to vote for Hadash. The campaign includes public rallies and meetings and visits to party constituents at their homes. More than 90% of the party's voters are Arab, Sweid said. Racist parties are "raising their heads now, speaking openly about 'racism' and 'transfer,'" he said. "It's in the people's best interest to show their political position, and give us the means to oppose the racist attitudes that are on the increase in Israel's political system," he said. A large turnout by Israeli Arab voters on February 10 would reduce the chances of Lieberman's Israel Beiteinu gaining strength or Knesset seats. "The danger is having Israel Beiteinu become the third largest party in Israel," Sweid warned. "It's becoming the mainstream in Israel, and they will be part of the next coalition." But at least some experts expect Arab voter turnout to be quite low this year, for a number of reasons. Operation Cast Lead is viewed by most Palestinians as "brutal, atrocious and criminal war," and many feel discouraged to vote, said Bashir Bashir, a research fellow at the Gilo Center for Citizenship, Democracy and Civic Education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute. Second and more significant is the frustration that Israeli Arabs feel about their parties' inability to significantly impact government policies and decision-making. "They know that the Palestinian parties are automatically excluded from the coalition," he said. "The political system views them as outsiders, aliens, as a fifth column, and don't use a discourse of rights and equality." Third, there is also a sense of frustration among Israeli Arabs with the Arab leadership for not uniting into one party, which would increase their representation and influence, Bashir said. "It's very hard for me to see how, really, [the Arab parties] will convince the masses to vote on a larger scale than in the last election," he said. "If they hope for the same percentage, they'll have to work very hard."