Israeli Arabs defy expectations with higher turnout

Efforts to increase Arab participation in election bear fruit; Arab party leaders disappointed that turnout was not higher

Arab voting 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Arab voting 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Arab voter turnout increased by 3% to reach 56%, the first increase since 2000 as Israeli Arab parties maintained 11 seats from 2009, and additionally, an Arab was elected on the Meretz list. A higher Arab turnout was needed to maintain their seats because overall turnout in the general population went up by 3% to reach almost 68%.
Arab voter election turnout increased by around 3% to reach 56% overall, Army Radio reported on Thursday citing The Abraham Fund. This was the first increase in Arab turnout since 2000. Kfar Kasim led the Arab sector with close to 80% turnout according to the Central Elections Committee.
Other major Israeli Arab population centers also had a high turnout: Jaljuliya 70%, Kfar Bara 59%, Taibe 60%, Tira 59%, Rahat 57%, Umm al-Fahem 57%, and Sachnin around 80%.
Some interesting votes were cast in the Arab sector such as 12 votes for Bait Yehudi, 33 for Shas, and one for Otzma LeYisrael in Kfar Kassem. Many other Arab towns had a small numbers of votes for right wing Zionist parties that one would expect to receive zero support. For example in Sakhnin, Otzma LeYisrael got 9 votes, Shas 31, and United Torah Judaism (UTJ) 22.
Arab Party results: UAL-Ta’al 4, Hadash 4, and Balad 3 with other Arab votes going to Meretz, which has Arab MK Issawi Freij entering the Knesset on its list. He had strong support from his hometown of Kfar Kasim. Arab party leaders showed disappointment with the fact that turnout was not higher, lamenting the fact that higher turnout could have tipped the balance, preventing a right wing government.
UAL-Ta’al leader Ahmad Tibi said, “I have no doubt that we will continue to lead the Arab sector,” but if the turnout had “gone up by 10% we could have toppled the Right’s rule and push Netanyahu and Lieberman from leadership. This was a missed opportunity,” he told Ynet.
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Even though the Arab parties did not gain seats, there still was an increase in votes for Arab parties because more votes were needed as overall turnout increased compared to 2009.
This high Arab turnout matches the feeling on the street that was reported in The Jerusalem Post on the day of the elections on Tuesday.
This directly contradicts much of the commentary in the Israeli and international media prior to the vote that predicted a lower Arab turnout.
For example, the Economist ran a piece in January prior to the elections with the title “What’s the point?” Stating, “Arab Israelis are too disheartened to take the forthcoming election seriously.” The article published a similar prediction by Professor Asad Ghanem of Haifa University, who ran a survey on Israeli Arab voting intentions.
Jodi Rudoren, of the New York Times put forward a similar hypothesis this month (also reporting on Ghanem’s findings) in an article titled, “As Israeli Vote Nears, Arab Apathy Is a Concern.”
All of these predictions turned out to be wrong. If the Arab League call for Arabs to vote or the Arab parties campaigns made the difference is not known.
The Abraham Fund Initiatives came out with a report on Wednesday stating that there was an increase in Israeli Arab voting on Tuesday. It states, “the high voting rates reflect the will of the Arab public to take part in the Israeli political process.”
The report said that previous elections demonstrated a downward trend in Arab voter turnout, but this election seems to have put a stop to this downward projection. The results show that the Arab public believes in their representatives in the Knesset and in their ability to promote their interests.
Amnon Beeri-Sulitzeanu, Co-Executive Director of the Abraham Fund Initiatives, told The Jerusalem Post, that they have received data that shows a turnout of 59-60%. That is higher than the 53.4% turnout rate in 2009.
“We were working hard to get out the Arab vote regardless of who they were voting for, just as long as they would use their civic right to vote,” Amnon said. 
“What we saw last night was a positive signal of confidence of the Arab voters towards their leaders and parties. It was also a signal of the Arab community to be engaged in the political system.”
He also said that this is a “very significant” change and is important because it demonstrates a change in trends. “In previous years we were talking about disengagement and alienation but now it seems that there is a change in the trend and more will to be engaged. They are seeking dialogue and engagement with the Jewish majority."
Amnon added, “In absolute numbers we are talking about [a significant achievement], an additional seat in the knesset. If this were the status quo, we would have seen a drop in seats for the Arab parties.”
Hadash MK Dov Khenin told The Jerusalem Post that he is happy that the voting numbers of Arabs went up because Hadash “worked  hard” for this.
He says that he is satisfied with the results for Hadash because they were able to maintain their strength at four mandates despite the fact that they wanted to grow. But, Khenin added, “we are happy because the right got weaker.”
 PM Netanyahu had a plan to make the elections earlier in order to win more mandates, “but he got less. His plan failed.”