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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Yisrael Beiteinu, for example, advocates stripping Israeli citizenship from hundreds of thousands of Arabs who live near the so-called Green Line that separates Israel from the occupied West Bank and handing them and the land on which they reside over to be part of a Palestinian state as part of a peace agreement. In exchange, Israel would annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

But the sense of Arab alienation is economic as well as political. According to the Adva Center, a social affairs think-tank in Tel Aviv, 53% of Israeli Arabs live below the poverty line, compared with 14% of Israeli Jews. In Umm al-Fahm, a crowded, sprawling town near Baqa, residents singled out lack of land for housing as one of their most important problems, something for which they blame the zoning practices of the government.

“There is a lot of racism, in housing, in how you are treated in offices. There is no equality at all,’’ said Ahmad Mahajane, who works as a waiter in Tel Aviv.

The government says it is committed to reducing such social and economic inequalities. But few Israeli Arabs believe that whom they vote for will have any impact on their situation.

Alienation was not always this deep. Voter turnout among Israel’s Arab minority was 70% during the contest that brought Yitzhak Rabin of the Labor Party to power back in 1992. After the election, Rabin struck an alliance with Arab legislators who gave him a blocking majority of 61 seats in the 120-seat parliament. This kept his government from being toppled by the right as he pursued the Oslo peace agreement for Palestinian self-rule in the occupied territories.

Arab voter participation peaked at 75% during the election that brought Labor’s Ehud Barak to power in 1999. But the alliance between Arab politicians and the ruling Labor Party unraveled during Barak’s tenure, especially after the outbreak of the second intifada uprising in 2000 and the killing by security forces of 12 Arab citizens during protests.

In 2009, Arab turnout for parliamentary elections sank to an all-time low of 53%. A poll taken in October by the Abraham Fund, a group promoting coexistence, suggests it will tumble below 50% this time.


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