Baqa al-Gharbiyye, Israel — “To whom are you leaving the country?” entreats one poster for Balad, an Arab party, showing a photo of Avigdor Lieberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party. The party has proposed stripping Arabs of their voting rights if they refuse to pledge loyalty to Israel as a Jewish state.
But the pitch seems to be falling on deaf ears. Members of the country’s Arab minority are poised to stay home in record numbers in the country’s January 22 parliamentary election, according to recent polls. The phenomenon, if borne out in the election, would signal growing alienation among the one-fifth of the citizenry that is Arab. Analysts say it would also help perpetuate right-wing rule. Some critics of the trend say it raises tough questions about how democratic Israel is.
“‘People are in despair,” said Yusuf Khawish, a former high school psychology teacher in this town east of Hadera in northern Israel. “Their psychological situation doesn’t encourage voting. Who votes? Only he who thinks he can benefit.”
In a packed local shawarma shop where Quranic verses adorn the wall, Rami Sawaied, a 27-year-old lawyer, dismissed the election’s significance for himself and other Arabs as he munched on a sandwich during his lunch break.
“I am not going to vote. I don’t think that if I voted it would change anything,” he said.
Like many potential voters interviewed by the Forward in Arab areas of northern Israel, Sawaied perceives national politics as an Israeli Jewish game in which Arabs cannot be real players. They blame entrenched discriminatory attitudes. “This is a Jewish country, and they don’t give the Arab people a chance to live,” Sawaied said.
Another diner, Samir Auweisat, 34, said he would vote but did not believe it would make a difference. ‘’We can’t change the situation, because all the government is Jews,” said Auweisat, an Arabian horse trainer. “They won’t have [Arabs] in the [government] coalition.”