Half of Israeli Arab Public Won't Vote in Election, Survey Finds

Arab-majority slates Hadash-Ta'al and Balad-United Arab List are concerned over how low voter turnout could impact representation of Arab society in the Knesset

The leaders of the Hadash-Ta'al joint slate, Ayman Odeh (right) and Ahmad Tibi, Tel Aviv, March 13, 2019
Meged Gozani

Only 50 percent of Israel's Arab population plans on voting in the upcoming April 9 election, a 19 percent drop since Israelis last headed to the polls, a survey ordered by the Arab-majority Hadash-Ta'al slate found.

Arab parties were expecting a resurgent energy in their electorate after the Knesset slates were announced and the Central Election Committee disqualified some of the nominees from running – a decision the High Court later overturned.

However, it seems that the most powerful "party" ahead of the election in Israeli Arab society is that of the absentees.

>> Read more: Painted as ‘the enemy,’ young Israeli Arabs struggle to see the point of voting

The two main parties vying for the Arab vote in the campaign are the political alliances of Balad-United Arab List and Hadash-Ta'al. They're joined by a handful of new parties, none of which polls expect to come close to the electoral threshold, but will still try to snag a few thousand votes.

Leading activists and candidates from both lists told Haaretz that as of Friday, less than two weeks before Israelis go to the polls, the election remains unfelt in Israeli Arab society.

Furthermore, expectations for the electorate to be emboldened by the competition between the two slates have also proven false, the activists said.

The poll, conducted by the Yapa Institute under Dr. Aes Atrash among 500 adults in Arab society from all regions and ethnicities, found a 19 percent drop compared to the last election in people planning to vote. Last time, 63 percent of Israeli Arabs went to the polls, in part because the four parties unified into the Joint List, which disbanded in February. In 2013, when three major lists ran, the voting rate was 55 percent.

Dr. Atrash told Haaretz the trend is clear. "The two lists can't create momentum and a campaign with clear messages to the public," he said. "No doubt the disbanding of the Joint List contributed to the disappointment and sense of alienation." However, his findings notwithstanding, Atrash emphasized that past experience teaches the actual voting rate could be a little higher come Election Day.

Hadash expressed concern over how low voter turnout could impact representation of Arab society in the Knesset. "In order to stir the streets we need to address the younger generation, where the new voters were exposed to the Joint List four years ago, it doesn't exist now," said Hadash lawmaker Aida Touma-Sliman. "We need to explain to them there's no vacuum in politics, and the meaning of staying on the sidelines is that other factors will enter the arena." Another issue, she noted, is the low percentage of voting among Arab women.

Balad and the United Arab List don't skirt the distress either, and in some polls fail to pass the threshold. Nevertheless, Dr. Mansour Abbas, who leads the slate, believes "there is a substantial potential to increase the voting rate among a sector which declares it doesn't care about politics and the Knesset – not those whose boycott is ideological."

According to Abbas, this group constitutes 50 percent of those not intending to vote. In the coming week, Balad and the United Arab List intend to launch a positive campaign addressing voters directly, aimed at increasing turnout.

Balad chairman Jamal Zahalka believes the way to combat the phenomenon is by recruiting "influential factors within Arab communities, be it council heads, local committees and organizations and foundations that could encourage voting."

He added that this week, Balad held a meeting in the northern city of Baqa al-Gharbiyye with activists, "some of them family heads who could promulgate voting and act to drive peoples to the ballots on Election Day. So the voting rate will bump up by a few percentage and maybe we'll reach 60."