Israeli democracy is on display tomorrow as the nation has its third election in less than a year. Of all the minority groups living in the Middle East, only the Arab citizens of Israel vote and live with dignity. Most Arabs have no problem identifying with the State of Israel, but the real problem is their political leaders and the Arab Members of the Israeli Knesset (Parliament).
While Arabs throughout the entire Middle East are divided and fight incessant wars over religion, resources and the corruption of the ruling class or just personal animosity, the Arabs of Israel, for the most part, are united in a single faction called the “Joint Arab List.” Israeli Arab politicians have put aside their personal agendas in preparation for this important election, and one would be hard pressed to recall such unity in any part of the Arab world.
In past elections, the multiplicity of Arab parties resulted in the loss of many votes in the Arab sector because many of the smaller parties did not reach the electoral threshold of 3.25 percent. In order words, a party needs about 140,000 votes to join the Knesset. This year the Arab parties united in hopes of growing their representation in (or in opposition to) a future government.
In the last election held on September 17, the Joint List won 13 seats in the Knesset, in contrast to the previous election held on April 9, when they received only 11 seats. The List is intended to represent the voice of all Arabs including Christians, Druze, Muslims and even Jews. For example, the Joint Arab List, which is primarily affiliated with the Islamic Movement, counts among its ranks the radical leftist Hadash Communist party, as well as the Jewish socialist Knesset Member Ofer Kasif.
Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List, expects that with some two million Arab citizens, his party will this time win 16 seats.
His expectation of such electoral success notwithstanding, Odeh and other members of the Joint List will later this month participate in “Apartheid Week,” an orgy of cheap propaganda and Israel-bashing organized by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
Will anyone talk to the Arabs?
Despite Odeh’s boasting, the Joint List’s fortunes have appeared shaky over the past year, for a number of reasons.
In the April 2019 election, Arab citizens punished the List over the many mistakes and mishaps of its Knesset members. For instance, one of those MKs, Basel Ghattas, smuggled cell phones into a high-security facility and distributed to prisoners. He was tried and sent to a lengthy prison sentence. Many other Joint List members were more interested in pleasing the Palestinian Authority than caring for the needs of Arab citizens. There are plenty of problems that could be solved easily in the Arab sector, but their representatives in Knesset prefer to deal with the “Palestinian issue” than fulfill their obligations to their constituents. With the growing problems of violence, illegal weapons, budget shortages, broken infrastructure and more, the Arab List fell to a record low 11 seats. Many Arabs voted for ultra-Orthodox Jewish and left-wing civil rights parties in order to punish the Arab politicians.
Concerning the last election, the Joint List was strengthened due to the murky relationship between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Odeh. When Netanyahu demanded cameras be placed at Arab polling stations after repeatedly saying before the last elections that the Arabs would “steal the elections,” he was accused of racism by many in Israel. This is one of the reasons that Arab citizens to came out to vote en masse against Netanyahu, and not necessarily because they identified with the Joint List.
Latest polls indicate an increase for the Joint List ranging between 13 to 15 mandates. Netanyahu seems to have learned his lesson and has not been attacking the Arab sector as much this time around. In fact, most Knesset Members have been somewhat complacent of late. Maybe they are tired of the multiple elections, or maybe just tired.
Even so, both Netanyahu and Benny Gantz of the “Blue and White” opposition party have managed to insult Arab voters once again by ruling out any possibility of including the Joint List in the next government.
We will find out tomorrow how Arab voters respond and whether or not either party can form a government with or without talking to the Arabs.