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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Mohammad Darawshe, co-director of the Abraham Fund, blamed both Jewish and Arab political leaders in Israel for Arab electoral alienation.

The political leaders of Labor and of Jewish centrist parties have failed to engage the Arab electorate during the current campaign, Darawshe said. And no mainstream party, he added, has committed itself to including Arab parties in its coalition should it come to power.

Labor Party officials declined to respond to this criticism. But Kassam Grifat, head of Arab affairs for the centrist HaTnua party, led by former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, said his faction was actively campaigning for Arab votes. Polls pointing to low turnout in this sector were due to “failed government policy,” he said, which HaTnua would reverse.

Darawshe cited findings in the Abraham Fund’s October survey to argue that Arab politicians were also failing Arab citizens. According to its findings, the Arab public wanted the three Arab-oriented parties in the Knesset to set aside their ideological and personal differences and run a united list emphasizing education, poverty and employment. But Balad and Hadash, the two secular Arab parties, and Ra’am Ta’al, whose orientation is Islamist, could not overcome their differences.

Sawaied concurred that Arab Knesset members were out of touch with people’s concerns: “The Arab members in the Knesset don’t talk about our problems, like unemployment and socioeconomic problems,” he said. “All the time they talk about how the Palestinians have to get a country, but they don’t talk about our problems.”

On this point, Sawaied’s views appear to agree with those of Danon, one of the Likud’s more aggressive right-wing lawmakers. “The main reason they don’t want to vote is that their leaders, instead of worrying about the public that elected them, chose to take care of enemies, and to board the Marmara and participate in incitement,” Danon said.

Yossi Sarid, who served as Rabin’s education minister, said that a very low Arab turnout would only help perpetuate right-wing rule by reducing the number of seats won by the left. And Darawshe warned that a further decline in Arab voters would have negative implications not just for Arab citizens, but also for the Israeli state as a whole. “A democracy that cannot create space for 20% of the population to find its political role is a failing democracy,” he said.

Some leading rightists feel quite differently. David Rotem, a legislator from Yisrael Beiteinu, said, “It is their problem how and what they vote. If they choose not to vote despite having the right to do so, then Israel is perfectly fine. It is no problem at all.”

Contact Ben Lynfield at feedback@forward.com


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