Arab municipal elections dependent on family connections, not ideology

Israeli-Arab TAU lecturer tells Post to expect high turn out for municipal elections in Arab towns, villages.

Israeli-Arab woman votes 370 (photo credit: Ammar Awad/Reuters)
Israeli-Arab woman votes 370
(photo credit: Ammar Awad/Reuters)
Arab towns and villages are likely to have a higher turnout in next week’s municipal elections, compared to Jewish areas. However, unlike Jewish areas, where votes are seen as based on ideology, party, or the experience and skills of the candidates, Arab areas tend to vote for candidates based on family or hamula (“clan”) connections.
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Sami Miaari, an Israeli Arab lecturer at Tel Aviv University in the department of labor studies and a research fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, said that participation in Arab municipalities will most likely show a 90 percent participation rate.
The elections in the Arab villages are a struggle between clans and families, with the more powerful families winning the most votes, said Miaari.
He pointed out that it is not an ideological competition, although “some of the parties run in the elections under the umbrella of an important family in the village.”
For example, the Islamic Movement in Israel and political parties such as Balad, all partner with important families in municipal elections.
Explained Miaari, the roots of this tradition in Israel go back to the 1950s when the Israeli army would appoint the head, or sheikh, of a big family to lead a specific city or village.
Usually, this sheikh would also belong to the dominant political party of the time, Mapai, which was Zionist-socialist and later merged into the Labor party.
According to Miaari, the intention of the government at the time was to distance the Arabs from the national conflict between the Jews and the Arabs in order to create an internal competition between families.
Somewhat of an exception is Nazareth, which has lacked strong families since 1973 and is generally divided on religious lines and also somewhat by political parties.
Asked if national elections follow this pattern, he responded that this is a separate issue although the impact of families still exist, but not at the same level as in the municipality elections.
Another issue that Miaari brings up that he believes needs to be changed is the fact that there are almost no female representatives at the municipality or national level.
In the Arab city of Sakhnin there is a woman candidate from the Hadash party for the city council, yet this is the exception, not the rule.
“We want women to be representatives,” he said explaining that the reason for their exclusion is based on culture and tradition.
According to an empirical study by Avi Ben-Bessat and Momi Dahan in 2008 titled Social Identity and Voter Turnout, which examined the voting patterns of Arab communities in Israel, hamula affiliation measured by individuals with the same last name, tended “to vote for a candidate who shares their last name as compared to other candidates.”
The study was based on turnout data from municipal elections in 2003.
Nir Atmor, a lecturer at the Zefat Academic College and a researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute, said that Arab turnout in municipal elections is very high at 90% compared to the Jewish sector which is around 61%. In Tel Aviv, only 36% voted in 2008. For Jews, the turnout is much higher in the periphery than in urban centers, said Atmor.
In the Arab sector, families are able to bring out the votes by offering benefits and by tapping into group loyalty and tradition, he said.