Israel Election Results: Arab Alliance's 'Historic' Gains Overshadowed by Netanyahu's Surge

Increasing Arab representation in Israel election is an impressive accomplishment, but Netanyahu's right-wing bloc growing stronger signals hard times are ahead

Jack Khoury
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Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh with lawmakers Mansour Abbas and Mtanes Shehadeh
Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh with lawmakers Mansour Abbas and Mtanes ShehadehCredit: Rami Shllush
Jack Khoury

UPDATE: Israel election results: Netanyahu two seats away from majority with 90 percent of votes counted

Despite predicting record gains for the Joint List alliance of Arab-parties, the mood at the party's headquarters in the northern Israeli city of Shufaram was far from festive as exit polls were released Monday evening. As of early noon Tuesday and with 90 percent of the vote counted, the Joint List is set maintain its position as the third largest party, with 15 seats, two more than in the outgoing Knesset. But the excitement over the party strengthening was overshadowed by the possibility that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may finally succeed in forming a government, as his right-wing bloc was predicted to win 59 seats, just two shy of a majority.

Bibi went gunning for his only real rival

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Joint List faction chairman Ahmad Tibi said that exit polls sparked mixed responses among the party's lawmakers. The increasing Arab representation is an impressive accomplishment; however, the right-wing bloc also grew stronger, signalling hard times are ahead. Tibi stressed that the failure to beat Netanyahu is not the Joint List’s or that of Arab voters, but that of Kahol Lavan, the Labor-Gesher-Meretz slate and the Zionist left.

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Joint List lawmaker Ahmad Tibi, March 2, 2020.
Joint List lawmaker Ahmad Tibi with his daughters, March 2, 2020. Credit: Gil Eliahu

Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh hailed the historic gains for Arab representation in the Knesset. Odeh added that Israel's Arab community had made great strides by heading out to vote and not succumbing to voter fatigue in Israel's third election within a year. Despite the right-wing bloc's achievement, the exit polls indicate that the Joint List could be a major obstacle to forming an extremist right-wing government.

Election Day began with an air of optimism among the Arab community, with the Joint List setting a positive atmosphere that echoed throughout social media. But as the day progressed, a gap emerged between the Joint List's wishful thinking and the actual voter turnout in the Arab community. Data coming in from polling stations in Arab towns did not indicate particularly high voter turnout, ramping up tension and anxiety among the Joint List members.

“We are seeing that people are interested and want to vote, but as of this afternoon things weren’t so clear; there is a gap between the general enthusiasm and voter turnout,” said Morad Hadad, a Balad activist working for the Joint List in Shfaram.

As optimism turned into concern over voter apathy, party leaders called on Joint List activists to beef up efforts to persuade Israel's Arab citizens to get out the vote. “We have encouraging data but it’s not enough,” a Joint List activist said.

As part of their efforts to get people to the polls, activists blasted messages from loudspeakers in mosques, usually used to sound the call to prayer, and mounted on cars driven through Arab neighborhoods. A convoy of cars drove between the towns and villages in the Negev desert, urging people to vote.The Joint List arranged transportation for voters living in unrecognized Bedouin villages in the south, who may otherwise have had no way of getting to a polling station.

Arab local council heads were a major driving force in getting voters to the polls. Most of them issued calls and posted videos on social media urging people to vote. Mudar Yunis, chairman of the Forum of the Heads of Arab Local Authorities, noted that most of the Arab mayors and council chairman called on the Arab public to vote and didn’t hide their preference for the Joint List.

The Joint List's campaign focused heavily on raising voter turnout among women and young people, and investing more in unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev, as reported by Haaretz. But towards the end of the day, voter turnout was more encouraging in small villages than in larger communities like the Bedouin city of Rahat in the Negev.

As Election Day neared its end, the lower than expected voter turnout among Israel's Arabs – particularly in the cluster of Arab towns and villages in what is known as “the Triangle,” a region south of Haifa and adjacent to the West Bank – raised many questions.  

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