Arab-majority Parties to Hold Primaries, New Faces Try to Break Through

Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh to run for party chief again, contending against two new candidates. Hadash and Balad to hold primaries over weekend

File photo: Members of the Joint List, in the Knesset, Jerusalem, 2017.
Emil Salman

Two of the Arab-majority parties running for the upcoming election as part of the Joint List will finalize the make-up of their slate this week.

Hadash and Balad are two of the four factions that make up the Joint List, which is projected to again finish as Israel's third largest party. The factions are still negotiating the terms of their alliance after one of the factions, Ta'al, split off from the party in early January.

Hadash, the only Arab-Jewish political party in Israel, will elect six candidates for its ticket on Friday.

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MK Aida Touma-Sliman in the Knesset, February 2018.
Olivier Fitoussi

MK Aida Touma-Sliman will be running for second place on the slate while Raja Zaatry, the Haifa council member who was recently blocked from serving as the city's deputy mayor, will be vying for third place.

Normally, the third place is saved for a Jewish candidate. After MK Dov Khenin announced that he will not be seeking reelection, four Jewish candidates are trying to run for his seat.   

Dov Khenin in Tel Aviv, January 2019.
Meged Gozani

Balad will hold its primary on Saturday. This past Sunday, the party’s election committee officially approved the candidates. After two of Balad’s three Knesset members, Haneen Zoabi and Jamal Zahalka, announced they are not running for reelection, 16 new candidates are competing for 5 places on the party slate. The candidates for the head of Balad are Ashraf Kortam, who has been a member of the party since its earliest days and was an advisor to former Balad leader Azmi Bishara; Dr. Metanes Shehadeh, the secretary general of Balad for the past two years; MK Jouma Azbarga and Rabia Eid. Balad reserves one out of the first three spots on its slate for a woman.

At the beginning of January, Tibi submitted a request to the chairman of the Knesset House Committee to allow Ta’al to split off from the Joint List. Tibi decided to leave after multiple attempts to introduce a new system of open primaries for the Joint List, or alternatively choosing the Knesset slate based on opinion polls. Tibi feels Ta’al is underrepresented on the Joint List, but the other three Arab parties refused to cooperate with Tibi’s proposals.

Arab city council member Raja Zaatry from Hadash, December 2018.
Rami Shllush

The Joint List was formed in 2014 after Israel raised the electoral threshold to 3.25 percent, making it likelier that individual parties representing Israel's Arab population could be shut out of the Knesset unless they allied with other parties. It is currently the third-largest bloc in the Knesset. Polls released recently project that it will win 12 seats in the upcoming election.

A poll published in Israeli media in early January showed that 47 percent of Arabs who hold Israeli citizenship would prefer lawmaker Ahmad Tibi as chair of Join List political party over its current chair. The poll also found that Tibi's party Ta'al would receive 43 percent of Arab votes if the election was held today, compared with 38 percent who said they'd vote for an alliance of the other Arab parties.

A survey published on Sunday showed that a significant majority of Israeli Arabs are interested in some form of participation in the next government. 

MK Ayman Odeh (Joint List)
Tomer Appelbaum

The survey found that nearly two-thirds of the respondents (64 percent) were in favor of Arab parties joining the governing coalition. Support was even higher (68 percent) when the option in question was a center-left government.

Nearly three out of four respondents (74 percent) said they supported the idea of earmarking cabinet positions for Arab lawmakers, while 80 percent were in favor of supporting the government from the opposition benches in exchange for increased government funding for their communities.

Among the respondents, a majority of 61 percent said they would support a joint Jewish-Arab party if it ran in the upcoming election on April 9.

Jafar Farah after his ordeal at the police station last month.
Rami Shllush

Arab parties have never been part of a governing coalition in Israel. Raleb Majadele was the first and only Arab to ever serve as a minister in the Israeli government. A member of the Labor party, he was appointed minister without portfolio in 2007 by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

File photo: MK Ahmed Tibi in the Knesset, Ausgust 2018.
Olivier Fitoussi