Israeli Arabs decide at last moment to cast their votes

Frustrated but frightened, Arab citizens show up to vote after all.

elections06.article.298 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Despite misleading exit polls and disillusionment among potential voters, the Arab citizens of Israel showed up to vote after all, surprising the country and themselves. Not only did Wednesday's results show all three lists passing the minimum threshold (although final counts could change this), they did better than they expected. The 16th Knesset closed with eight MKs from Arab parties. The 17th Knesset will open with 10 from those lists. How did it happen when the Arabs were frustrated with their candidates and the political system, with many feeling they have no influence? Polls said they wouldn't vote; the Arabs themselves said they wouldn't. The answer: Fear was the biggest factor. And it surfaced among the voters and players. The voters became worried that few would go to the polls and the consequences scared them. In the last two hours of voting many Arabs - who originally had no intention of voting - rushed to the polls. Tawfik Abu Assad showed up to vote at 9:50 p.m. The 19-year-old said his family and his own conscience pushed him to the poll. "I saw people weren't going," said Abu Assad as he left the polling station, "and thought to myself I better go to help the Arabs in Israel." Outside the entrance to the station stood Anas Abdalhaleq, a 23-year-old supporter of Hadash. Abdalhaleq voted in the morning and spent the day bringing others to the polls. "I convinced them because only in the Knesset we [Arabs] can make laws to bring equality. Maybe." His last success was a young woman he went to high school with. She left the polling station moments before it closed, while a mother and daughter ran in with ID cards in hand. The elections lacked excitement, said Dokhol Safadi. "It's not like in the past," said Safadi, the chef and owner of Nazareth's renowned Diana restaurant. "People dragged themselves to the polls. I voted, but I am not happy with any of the MKs. They do not express what is important to me as an Arab Israeli: the daily life, the struggle over our identity, and treatment of us by the state." After the exit polls were released, Emil, 19, stopped at a pancake shop. "I am against voting," said the teenager. "But at 9 p.m. I went to vote for Hadash, because I believe in their idea that Jews and Arabs must live here together. They won't get rid of us and we won't get rid of them." Nevertheless, he was disappointed by the success of Israel Beiteinu, which calls for exchanging areas within the pre-1967 borders that are heavily populated with Israeli Arabs for land in Judea and Samaria that has a high concentration of Jews. "What can I say? I feel bad that so many Jews voted for [Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor] Lieberman." Fear was also an issue among Islamists in Israel and was doubtless one of the reasons the Islamists and MK Ahmed Tibi, in the joint United Arab List-Taal, came out the big Arab winners of this election. Normally the northern faction of the Islamist Movement of Israel boycotts the Knesset elections. This year they told their followers to choose freely whether they would vote or not. Sheikh Hashem Abdul Rahman, the spokesman for the northern faction and the mayor of Umm el-Fahm, voted early Tuesday morning. Despite its traditional hard-line ideology of boycotting the elections, a high-ranking source in the northern faction told The Jerusalem Post that the expected low turnout made members fear that Arab Israelis would not be represented. Hence, they changed their minds - and their supporters likely understood the hint and voted for the Islamists from the southern faction, who are represented in the UAL list. Another factor that helped the Arabs gain more seats was the low number of Jewish voters. Normally 10 percent fewer Arab voters go to the polls than Jews. On Tuesday the gap was reduced to 7% giving Arab votes a greater proportion of the votes cast.