Israel Election 2019: Exceptionally Low Turnout Among Arab Voters, Leaders Warn of 'Nightmare'

Senior member of Hadash warns that next Knesset could have no Arab parties ■ Balad chairman says figures troubling ■ Earlier, Netanyahu's party placed 1,200 hidden cameras in Arab polling sites

A woman votes in Kafr Qasem, April 9, 2019.
Moti Milrod

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Activists from both the main Arab tickets have been expressing concern about low voter turnout in Arab communities throughout Election Day on Tuesday.

The activists reported their concern to the campaign headquarters of both tickets, Hadash-Ta’al and United Arab List-Balad. Balad Chairman Jamal Zahalka said the data attests to “a real problem at the polling stations.”

Netanyahu's party placed 1,200 hidden cameras in Arab polling sites.

Prof. Camil Fuchs, the pollster for Haaretz and Channel 13, told the channel that turnout in the Arab community was exceptionally low. “We’ve never seen such a thing,” he added.

The two Arab tickets estimated turnout in Arab communities at about 25 percent as of 5 P.M., compared to 35 percent in the last election.

Bradley Burston and Allison Kaplan Sommer explain implications of low Arab voter turnout

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A veteran Hadash activist from Nazareth said that last election, this rate had doubled by the time the polls closed. But as of 6 P.M., there were still few voters in evidence.

“In this situation, both tickets are in danger – not just UAL-Balad, but also Hadash-Ta’al,” a senior Hadash official said. “That means the Knesset would have no Arab representation. That’s a dangerous situation.”

Israeli elections: Voter turnout

United Arab List-Balad had been hovering close to the electoral threshold in all pre-election polls. But Hadash-Ta’al consistently polled well above it.

Both tickets held consultations in the afternoon about last-ditch efforts to get out the vote, including by issuing an emergency call to voters and activists, and UAL-Balad urged its voters to go to the polls Tuesday evening.

Both parties on the UAL-Balad joint ticket believe that if turnout in the Arab community doesn’t exceed 50 percent, the ticket is in danger.

“We don’t expect to reach a 63 percent voting rate, as we did in 2015,” a Balad activist said. “But let’s at least reach 55 or 56 percent. Otherwise, the situation will be grim.”

Hadash Chairman Ayman Odeh meanwhile said: "We are continuing in full force, going door to door and calling on people to get out and vote. Our nightmare, which is the prime minister's fantasy – is a Knesset without Arab representation, and suddenly it's looking like a realistic possibility. I know that 'Gevalt' is a Yiddish word, but worrying about our children's future is universal."

The concern comes as it emerged earlier that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party spent hundreds of thousands of shekels to provide its observers in polling stations in Arab communities with 1,200 hidden cameras.

A right-wing source told Haaretz that "the move was aimed to preserve the purity of the election and to assure that [Arab slate] United Arab List-Balad won’t pass the electoral threshold through falsifications."