Poll: Israeli Arabs Unhappy With Local Services, but Still Choose Kin Over Competence

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The catchword found on many of the billboards in Arab towns ahead of Tuesday's municipal elections is "change": a change for the better, a change for our village, a change for our children, it's time for change.

The assumption that Arab voters are dissatisfied with the status quo in their towns – many of which have inefficiently run municipal and regional councils and suffer from an acute shortage of funding and basic infrastructure - is accurate, according to a recent poll examining Israeli Arab voting patterns.

The survey, conducted by the Mada al-Carmel center for applied social research, found that 73 percent of respondents are dissatisfied with the housing options available in their communities. When asked about the level of services in general, half of the 513 respondents said they were dissatisfied.

The most important issues for Arab voters are education, followed by housing for young couples, the survey found.

Mada al-Carmel survey unit coordinator Aas Atrash and project coordinator Mtanes Shihadeh, who conducted the study, noted that despite the interest in change, by far the most common reason respondents gave for supporting someone for local office was that the candidate was a family or clan member. Far lower down the list came the candidate's competence and political affiliation.

Shihadeh said voters who put family ties above all may still believe that their candidate will do a better job than someone from a different clan.

The good news for women is that while voters do seem to care whether the candidate is related to them, it doesn't seem to matter much if that candidate is male or female.

Eighty-two percent of respondents would like to see a woman running for mayor or head of council and 85 percent support placing female candidates in high places on the ticket for local and regional councils, the poll found. Some 93 percent said they would vote for a female candidate for mayor if she proved she could do the job.

This isn't purely theoretical. This year 165 women are running on 73 tickets in 44 Arab towns and villages. Ninety-two of the women are in one of the first five spots on the tickets, meaning they will have a seat at their city council if the party wins at least five seats.

Israeli Arabs tend to see local elections as having a more direct effect on their lives than national ones, since improved municipal services can have a significant effect on day-to-day life, said Shihadeh.

Ghaida Rinawie-Zoabi, the director of the Center for Professional Arab Local Governance in Israel (also known as Injaz), said local Arab politicians in Israel have recently been cooperating with programs aimed at improving their professional skills and helping them manage the local councils.

"The heads of the councils now comprehend that professional staff and advisors can lead to good results, leading to proper conduct in local authorities and averting financial hardships and crises," said Rinawie-Zoabi.

An Israeli Arab votes in the country's election.Credit: Moti Kimche

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