(May 7, 2019 / JNS) Israeli-Arab motivation to participate in national elections last month dropped partly because of the breakup of the Joint List of Arab Parties and partly due to other factors, such as infighting between Arab politicians, according to an experienced Arab sector political analyst.
Arab-Israeli turnout in the April 9 elections was about 49 percent—the lowest in a decade, according to an Israel Democracy Institute report by Arik Rudnitzky. As such, their total seats in the Knesset dropped to 10 seats from the previous 13.
The nationalist Balad Party and the Islamic Movement affiliated United Arab List (UAL) joined forces and received only four mandates, while the Communist Hadash combined with Ahmad Tibi’s Ta’al received six seats.
Shaheen Sarsur, who has been involved in Arab politics for more than 12 years and served in the previous Knesset as a parliamentary consultant to Knesset member Talab Abu Arar of the Islamic Movement’s parliamentary party told JNS in an interview that the low Arab turnout was possibly due to frustration over the breakup of the Joint List, which united all four Arab parties.
That coalition was disbanded because of political infighting, rivalries and personal interests, and wound up running as two separate two-party blocs, which damaged both their election outcome and their image among the Israeli-Arab public.
Abu Arar did not make it into the Knesset this time. The joint Islamist UAL and nationalist Balad Party barely passed the minimum threshold and will have only four seats (two for each party).
Sarsur had predicted in an interview with JNS before the election that the two Arab blocs could each get between four and six seats. The turnout was about 50 percent, lower than in the previous election.
“Many did not vote also because they saw the Arab politicians too involved in personal aggrandizement and squabbles between each other for power,” assessed Sarsur.
Hadash and Tibi’s Arab Movement for Change (Ta’al) ran a more organized campaign, with Tibi putting particular focus on social media and turning out the youth vote.
In addition, said Sarsur, many people see the Arab parties as ineffective and unable to change the government’s policies significantly.
“The results are an alarm for the Arab parties that their behavior needs to change, and that they need to reunite and work for issues that are important for the Arab public,” continued the Arab political expert.
Asked about the poor showing by Islamic Movement’s political party, Sarsur said the movement is “very popular and tends to do well in local elections because they seek power and jobs and tenders through the municipality. For national elections, Islamic Movement members may not be motivated to work hard for not getting much in return.”
Some Arab supporters of the Islamic Movement were disappointed that UAL united with Balad, which is considered a weak party, noted Sarsur.
And some voices in the Arab sector are calling for their current leaders to quit and allow younger ones to take over, he added.
Sarsur pointed out that a cartoon that ran recently in the Nazareth-based newspapers Kul Al-Arab showing the previous situation of Joint List with 13 chairs—representing 13 mandates in an organized order, though in this election the chairs are fewer, disorganized and some even broken.
Breakdown of the Arab vote
Yousef Makladeh, CEO of Statnet, an Israeli polling institute that specializes in the Arab sector, told Army Radio in an interview after elections that some Arab votes shifted from Arab parties to Zionist parties. Makladeh estimated that Meretz wouldn’t have passed the threshold to make it into the Knesset if not for the mandate it got from Arab voters.
Most Arab votes for Zionist parties go to the far-left Meretz and the left-wing labor party.
According to the IDI article, 23 percent of Arab votes to Jewish parties went to Meretz, with the second most-supported party being Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu.
Christian Arab turnout was nearly 56 percent. They overwhelmingly supported the Hadash-Ta’al alliance with around 17 percent supporting Meretz and 16 percent going for the Blue and White Party led by former Israel Defense Forces’ Chief of Staff Benny Gantz.
Druze had a higher turnout at nearly 57 percent; the majority of votes went to Blue and White with 34 percent and Meretz with 15 percent.
Interestingly, this shows that while the Druze and the Christians generally stayed away from the Islamist/nationalist UAL-Balad list, they spread their support among a variety of other parties, including Hadash-Ta’al, and were more willing to support Jewish majority parties, though mostly those on the left side of the political spectrum.
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