The election results sent a clear message to Israel’s Arab citizens: Arab voters said yes to Joint List and yes to unity.
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Voter turnout in the Arab community increased by nearly 10 percentage points over the 2013 election — and the number of Knesset members representing the Israeli Arab population increased from 11 Knesset members for three parties running separately to 14 Joint List MKs (with 99 percent of the votes counted).
Party activists and the intellectuals who endorsed the Joint List can say with satisfaction that, in what amounted to a public referendum on the alliance, Israel’s Arab citizens demonstrated that the joint ticket had earned its trust.
The overall election results, together with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s aggressive Election Day remarks about the threat of the “Arab voters streaming in huge quantities to the polls,” sent their own clear message to Israel’s Jewish majority: Even in 2015, Arabs must not influence the public agenda, and if they unite they’ll be shoved back to the margins of Israeli democracy.
Until Tuesday, Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh had considered the possibility that he would become opposition leader. But with Zionist Union looking like it will be the largest opposition party, that doesn’t seem likely, and frankly, Odeh is better off without it. This way, those who don’t want Arabs in the Knesset won’t be able to boast about the Arab opposition chairman of Israel, that wonderful bastion of democracy.
The election season gave Joint List leaders an opportunity to present the narrative of the country’s Arab citizens to any Israelis willing to listen. No less important was the international exposure. The party’s main challenge now will be to maintain its unity and to resuscitate the Higher Arab Monitor Committee, which has been clinically dead for the past 18 months.
Joint List has been given a mandate to speak on behalf of all Israeli Arabs, from every possible stage, and set out a clear vision based on equality, the preservation of national identity and cooperation with Israel’s democratic forces.