Boycotting Israeli Elections Is a Dangerous Path for Arab Citizens

Arabs need to conduct a deep self-examination in order to answer one question: What is their contribution to the bad situation they live under, and what is their role is rescuing themselves from it

An Israeli Arab woman casts her vote during Israel's parliamentary elections in Daliyat al-karmel, Israel, April 9, 2019.

You can blame the decision of so many people in the Arab community not to vote on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for incitement, Benny Gantz for strengthening the claim that Arab parties are enemies of the state and Yair Lapid for inventing the term “Zoabis.”

But the obvious conclusion here is exactly the opposite: If Netanyahu were Santa Claus handing out gifts to everyone the Arabs love, then I would have preferred to go to the beach instead of voting. But because of the incitement, exclusion and racism, the Arabs needed to come out en masse and vote – as an attempt to repel these attacks. For decades this was the way of Arab society – to come out for a civil struggle, including public, legal and parliamentary battles.

As the results of the election become clear, there are reasons within the Arab community for the low voter turnout: The breakup of the Joint List, the poor way in which the rotation was carried out, dismissal of the coordination committee that was supposed to set solutions for the problems of the Joint List – and whose decisions were not honored.

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There is also lack of discipline, MK Ahmad Tibi’s grandiose departure from the Joint List and poor negotiations over reunification. But such things happen even in the best families. The Jewish parties also suffer from ugly manifestations, which appear in every other democratic country too. Whoever wants a world without problems should look for a totalitarian regime. There they won’t have any embarrassments, and they will even attend Knesset in uniform.

The establishment convinced the Arab public that the Arab MKs are not doing enough for their voters and are busying themselves only with “nationalist problems.” This is completely absurd, but the government managed to plant the idea in the collective consciousness that the Arab Knesset members are responsible for every failure, personal or public.

Instead of making demands on the executive branch, the Arabs are now coming with complaints about their own representatives – who, what a surprise, are in the opposition. This is the same method used in city councils. The government discriminates against Arab municipalities and residents cry out against the mayors. This is exactly what happens, on a higher level, in the Palestinian Authority – where Israel controls everything, and the anger is directed at the leaders of the PA.

After every house demolition, comes the cry from those demanding to know where the Arab MKs were. As if the driver of the demolishing bulldozer was the chairman of the Hadash-Ta’al slate, Ayman Odeh, and his replacement is the chairman of Balad-The United Arab List Mansour Abbas.

I recently heard someone claim that poor voting turnout was punishment of the Arab MKs for not managing to defeat the nation-state law. I have written in the past, that if things continue in this direction, the Arab citizen will soon ask his MKs to cover him up at night so he doesn’t catch cold.

At the same time, the claim about a protest movement is not true either because it simply does not exist. Whoever proposes to boycott the elections is required to propose an alternative, and when no such thing exists, this is just an emotional response that is inconsistent with the rich and successful protest experience of the Arab community.

Non-participation in the elections is a dangerous path because it does not leave anything but despair and alignment with a repressive government – or alternatively, taking foolhardy steps that are the biggest gift possible for the repressive establishment. We need to remember that peoples have paid the heaviest price for the natural right to vote and be elected.

I regret to have to reiterate the root of the problem, which is the trap of the high electoral threshold. The failure of one party means throwing away the vote of 20 percent of the population. Is this democracy? The electoral threshold forces rival groups to unite in a single prison cell. This leads to chaos, alienation and voters fleeing their parties – some of what we saw this week when many Arab voters chose not to participate because their party linked with another that was not to their taste.

The Arabs need to conduct a deep self-examination in order to answer one question: What is their contribution to the bad situation they live under, and what is their role is rescuing themselves from it.