Meretz could attract some Arab voters if Balad goes
The only Zionist party to vote against disqualifying Balad could also end up becoming the only Zionist party that gains from its departure.
By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
Meretz was the only Zionist party that voted against disqualifying Balad in Monday's Central Elections Committee vote at the Knesset, and it could also end up becoming the only Zionist party that gains from Balad's departure.
Balad and the United Arab List, which was also disqualified in Monday's vote, plan to appeal to the High Court of Justice against the ban.
While the United Arab List is almost certain to be reinstated, Balad could end up remaining outside the election due to the efforts of its former chairman, Azmi Bishara, to help the Hizbullah in the Second Lebanon War.
Arab political analysts predicted on Monday that if Balad were barred from running, most of its voters will boycott the February 10 general election.
But they said others would vote for the Hadash Party and some could vote for Meretz, which received about three-quarters of a mandate from Arab votes in the last election.
"Meretz is seen as close to the consensus ideology of the average Arab voter who can vote for a Zionist party with a clean conscience," said Esawi Friej, who is slotted 10th on the joint Meretz-Hatenua Hahadasha list.
Friej said he was convinced that the High Court would overturn the disqualifications. He said the committee's decision would only persuade even more Arab voters to boycott the race than were already planning to stay home on election day because of the war.
"The Arab sector is going through a difficult time because of the war," Friej said. "The trend in the sector is to boycott the election as a sign of protest. It might be the lowest Arab turnout ever because of the proximity of the elections to the war."
Friej said Meretz is also at a disadvantage in both the Arab and Jewish sectors because it has remained in the opposition for nearly 10 years. He said that people want to vote for a party they feel can give them something in return.
One Meretz official went further and said that Shas actually received more votes in the Arab sector than Meretz, because the Sephardi haredi party has a reputation for serving in every government, the opposite of Meretz's image.
Arab political analysts said the one party that will not make any gains in
the Arab sector due to the war is Labor, because it is led by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who is seen as most responsible for the war.
Ironically, however, the boost in the polls that Labor has received could end up helping Labor's Arab candidate, Science, Culture and Sports Minister Raleb Majadle, enter the next Knesset.
Labor was polling under 10 mandates before the war and it is now polling 16. Majadle, who boycotted a cabinet meeting two weeks ago to protest the war, is 15th on the Labor list.
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