Israeli Arabs Gripped by Election Apathy

Palestinian Parties Blamed as Much as Far Right for Lethargy

Arab Apathy: It’s election season in Israel. But many Arabs see little reason to vote, despite the prospect of an even more right-wing government.
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Arab Apathy: It’s election season in Israel. But many Arabs see little reason to vote, despite the prospect of an even more right-wing government.

By Ben Lynfield

Published January 13, 2013, issue of January 18, 2013.
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His point is a historically accurate one. Throughout Israel’s history, both left and right governments have shunned Arab parties, which oppose the Zionist conception of Israel, as coalition partners. Various ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties, which also oppose Zionism, have served frequently in Israeli governing coalitions. But the Arab parties have been viewed differently,

During the course of 32 governments, only one Muslim cabinet minister has ever been appointed — Ghaleb Majadale of the Labor Party, who was appointed Minister of Culture in 2007. And under Israel’s political system, it is from within the government, not the Knesset, that real power is wielded.

The burgeoning sense of nonbelonging was reinforced this past December, when the Central Elections Commission nullified the candidacy of Haneen Zoabi from the Arab nationalist Balad party. The Supreme Court overturned this decision 9–0, but Likud party legislator Danny Danon is vowing to introduce legislation to bypass the court ruling and prevent Zoabi from serving if she is re-elected.

Zoabi is reviled by right-wing Israelis for joining in 2010 with pro-Palestinian activists on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara, which tried to break Israel’s long-running blockade on goods and materials entering Gaza. Israel imposed the blockade, which included heating fuel, many food goods and civilian essentials, in an effort to squeeze Hamas, the Palestinian faction that governs Gaza. The group has sponsored attacks on Israeli civilians and launched rockets from Gaza on Israel. But in Baqa, Zoabi’s banning was seen by many as anti-Arab and as an attack on Zoabi’s freedom of expression.

“She was banned because she speaks the reality, the truth about the situation of the people,” said Imad Mowasi, a local baklava seller.

Khawish, the former high school teacher, predicted that lingering anger over Zoabi’s aborted banning might push some to vote who otherwise would have stayed home — but not enough to significantly stem the tide of abstention.

The looming stay-away comes despite there being a great deal at stake for Arabs in the election. In late October, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the ruling Likud party merged his party’s Knesset candidates list with that of Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu, a faction in many ways to the right of the already right-wing Likud.


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