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Arabs have equal voting rights in Israel but wield limited clout as a group. Some boycott elections, while others support mainstream, Jewish-dominated parties - usually those in the centre or left wing.
The lack of a unified voice has deepened Israeli Arabs’ resentment of what they regard as deep-set racial discrimination and neglect when it comes to the disbursement of state benefits.
According to Israel’s National Insurance Institute, 53 percent of Arabs live below the poverty line, far above the national average of 20 percent. Tel Aviv University’s economics faculty puts the Israeli Arab unemployment rate at 30 percent, compared to the national average of 6 percent.
Most Israeli Arabs, Muslim or Christian, are descendants of Palestinians incorporated into the Jewish state in the 1948 war of its founding, when hundreds of thousands of others were driven out.
Many Jewish citizens express outrage at some Arab compatriots’ sympathy with today’s Palestinian struggle against Israel.
Asked if Hope for Change might one day sit in government with Netanyahu’s Likud, which is running a joint slate with the far-right Israel Beiteinu party and is favoured to win next month’s election by a wide margin, Krinawi said: “I would be willing to sit in any coalition.”
Yet Krinawi and more seasoned Arab politicians must first overcome apathy and disenchantment spreading in their electorate.
The Haifa University poll found 67 percent of respondents lacked confidence in Arab parties, and that only half planned to vote, a slight drop from the last election in 2009. Eighty-three percent said they did not trust the Israeli government.
Krinawi has dangled promises such as improving the roads of Israeli Arab towns and establishing Israel’s first Arab university.
“People are in despair, but we want to restore their faith and give them a new sense of hope,” he said. (Writing by Jihan Abdalla; editing by Andrew Roche)