Elections 2009 / Druze Likely to Comprise 5% of Next Knesset, Despite Small Population

A surprise candidate is Hamad Amar of Shfaram, a long-time activist in Yisrael Beiteinu, and 12th on the party's list.

If the pre-election polls are accurate, five Druze candidates will be elected to the Knesset from various lists - a totally disproportionate number, considering the tiny size of their population.

According to the government's statistical yearbook for 2008, Israel has about 120,000 Druze citizens, constituting 1.6 percent of the population. Five Druze lawmakers would be 4 percent of the Knesset's 120 members, 2.5 times more than the proportion of the community within the national population.

One surprise candidate is Hamad Amar of Shfaram, a long-time activist in Yisrael Beiteinu, and 12th on the party's list. Amar, who declined to answer questions Sunday about his candidacy, would only say that for the Druze community, Yisrael Beiteinu's campaign slogan "no citizenship without loyalty" is a natural one. Like the other Druze candidates, Amar has promised to work on behalf of his community.

Because there is a relatively large number of candidates, however, it seems that none of them will be elected solely because they are Druze. Indeed, there are 60,000 Druze with the right to vote - a little more than two Knesset seats.

Deputy Foreign Minister Majali Wahabi (Kadima), a Druze, said yesterday that his community cannot be expected to vote en bloc: "The large parties have to understand the importance of our community. I personally plan to represent my people faithfully, but also anyone who voted for my party, no matter what sector they come from. I believe in our involvement in Israeli society, not in separate parties."

MK Said Naffaa (Balad) says his community is part of the Palestinian people and must fight for its rights from outside the Zionist parties. What he sees as the Druze ethnic affiliation to the Palestinians is a historical axiom not something "determined by Zionist party politicians or Herzl," Naffaa explained yesterday. "The gamble on the Zionist parties was a failure, as can be seen from the difficult situation of the community," he added.

The relationship between the Druze and the Israeli establishment has made it convenient for the big parties to place them in a realistic slot on their lists. Kadima followed in the footsteps of Labor and Likud in this tradition when Kadima's first leader, prime minister Ariel Sharon, placed Wahabi in a top slot. Yisrael Beiteinu has now followed suit.

Naffaa believes that Druze voters do what activists - vote contractors - tell them to do. "When a candidate is in a realistic slot, thousands vote for a Zionist party. When there is no candidate in a realistic slot," he explained, "not even one family will vote for that party. Ideological voting only exists in our case - that is, in the Arab parties."