Analysis

Israel Election Results: Arab Leaders Herald High Turnout as Victory Over Netanyahu

Emerging election results show the Joint List is the third largest party in Knesset, which leaders see as a chance to 'send that inciter Netanyahu home'

Leaders of the Joint List celebrate their success in the polls, Nazareth, September 17, 2019.
Gil Eliahu

The voter turnout in Arab communities rose to 60 percent in this election compared with 50 percent in the April ballot, partial results of Israel's ballot indicate. (Live election results - click here)

The Joint List, made up of four Arab-majority parties, is emerging as the third-largest party in the Knesset according to the figures. Ninety-one percent of the vote has already been counted, Israel's Central Elections Committee said Wednesday. 

Leaders of the Joint List, heralded the result as a victory over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.   

“I want to thank our public, this was a great achievement for us, the Arab public responded, went out and delivered a great vote of confidence to the Joint List, and I believe we will end up with 13 seats and send that inciter Netanyahu home,” said Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh.

>> Read more: Israel election 2019: Live updates ■ Exit polls prove Netanyahu's spell has broken ■ Facebook removes fake accounts encouraging Arabs not to vote

Activists in Israel working to get out the Israeli Arab vote in the city of Ramle
\ Moti Milrod

MK Ahmad Tibi, No. 3 on the Joint List slate, made an ambiguous statement about joining a Kahol Lavan-led government. “We don’t want to be part of a government led by Gantz and Kahol Lavan, or part of such a coalition. We said this before the election. We presented the clear demands of the Joint List and of the Arab public for political involvement whose purpose is to block Benjamin Netanyahu. According to the poll results, the headline is 'The Netanyahu era is over,' this is already an achievement for everyone, Jews and Arabs as one, [defeating] someone who did away with rationality and spread strife, incitement."

"But it’s all up to Kahol Lavan," Tibi said, "if they turn to Likud and [Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor] Lieberman, then that’s evidently their direction, unless they want to change their relations with the Arab public by meeting our demands, which we’ve made clear.” 

Voting day in the Arab community began in a hopeful atmosphere, with a belief that this time there is a chance to repeat the achievement of 2015, and possibly bring about a change in the political map, in contrast to the April election, when it was clear that Arab voters would stay away.

There were positive messages from party activists and the general public. In several communities in Galilee, voters turned out at the polls early in the morning. The message of the four Arab parties that make up the Joint List emphasized the need to vote early and not wait until the congested evening hours.

Over the last couple of decades, the Arab public has soured on politicians and lost its trust in them. This is especially prominent among the younger generation, few of whom bother to vote – creating a third challenge for the list, formed by the Hadash, United Arab List, Balad and Ta'al parties.

Less than 35 percent of young Arab-Israelis voted in the last election, held in April. Researchers of the Arab community say the trend has persisted for the last two decades: The voting rate among the youth has been five percent lower than among older Arabs, on average. Some blame the trend mainly on the parties comprising the Joint List, because of the infighting and power struggles that led the joint slate's disbanding in the last election, and because they closed ranks to new voices.

Incitement

Ayman Odeh, the leader of the Joint List, meets constituents in Nazareth, Israel, on August 29, 2019.
Mahmoud Illean,AP

The messaging employed by Zionist parties and the Israeli media against the Arab Knesset members only exacerbated the apathy towards them in the Arab community. People in the Joint List admit that the parties gradually abandoned the academic sphere, despite it being one of the most influential factors in shaping young people's political identity, a process that also diminished their voting rates.

Since Israel's Arabs are a minority living in the margins of Israeli democracy, the Jewish majority cannot be absolved of responsibility for the deteriorating public discourse and increase in racism toward and delegitimization of the Joint List's MKs. But in this election, Israel's Arabs could make a decisive contribution to changing Israel's political map, shattering the blocs – if they try to take hold over their own future and vote.

The right wing, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is well aware of this. We have already witnessed the enormous effort they invested in damping the Arab vote, whether by trying to enact the camera law (allowing election supervisors appointed by political parties to film voters at the ballot boxes) or claiming that the election would be "stolen." Arab politicians starred in the right's nightmare scenarios that could potentially ensue if Netanyahu's rival party Kahol Lavan won the election.

In contrast to the April election, when hidden Likud cameras were discovered in the morning at Arab polling stations, evoking furious reactions, this time there were hardly any surprises. Fear of provocations at polling stations did not materialize. At some there were arguments with members of the polling station committees, since some of them arrived carrying weapons, but these were isolated incidents which did not really impact the voting overall.

Exit polls at the close of voting showed the Joint List improving on the 10 its constituent parties received running separately in the April election. One poll even showed them exceeding the 13 mandates the list got in its maiden unified run in 2015.

Mazen Ganaim, March 27, 2019.
rami shllush

Local matters

For years the Arab parties have been trying to simultaneously fight the calumny and at the Arab community's election boycott. The reforming of the Joint List is a new opportunity to regain the community's trust through political activity and the potential to influence the future. That is why the members of the list have called this election a game-changer, and kept urging the community to vote.

In Sakhnin, one of the major Arab cities in the north, the situation turned around from April. In that election, the leading candidate was Mazen Ganaim from the Balad-Ra’am list, and this drove 88 percent of eligible voters to cast their vote in Sakhnin, far above the turnout in other Arab communities. On Tuesday, the hope was that 60 percent of eligible voters turn up. Ganaim had withdrawn from the race due to a dispute over his placement on the party’s list of candidates, and this affected turnout.

Bedouin women wait to cast their vote just outside a polling station during Israel's parliamentary election in the Bedouin town of Rahat in southern Israel September 17, 2019.
\ AMIR COHEN/ REUTERS

It should be noted that internal political disputes in Arab communities often affect voting patterns on a national level. Ganaim did call on his supporters to go out and vote for the Joint List, but people in Sakhnin believe that many of his supporters chose to boycott the election or vote for other parties. Sakhnin’s mayor, Dr. Safwat Abu Raya, who is identified with the secular left-wing Hadash party, called on his people to go into the neighborhoods and urge people to vote. He told Haaretz that these calls were made through loudspeakers and on apps, with drivers cruising the streets of the city calling on people to vote.

The picture in Shfaram was more complicated. This is an Arab city with voters supporting a wide diversity of parties, including Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu, as well as the Joint List. Polling stations were busy throughout the day. A Joint List activist told Haaretz that in April they had to run around coaxing people to go and vote, even helping them find their polling stations. This time the picture was different as voters asked for help in finding their stations. Ali Suad, a city resident, said he’d never voted before but this time he did. “I followed the news and heard about the importance of voting, and I decided to do it,” he said.

Three ballot boxes were placed in one of Shfaram’s schools, and many voters showed up. They included a woman who said she hadn’t voted for the last 10 years or more, but this time she was there with her daughter to vote. “It’s important to vote, especially for the Joint List. I called on all my relatives and children to vote. I want them to succeed.”