Israeli Arab Politicians See Opportunity to Increase Support in March Election

Joint List submitted their Knesset roster with an air of unity and optimism, showing no traces of the internal strife that plagued the party ahead of the previous two elections

The Joint List submits their slate for the March 2 election, January 15, 2020.
Ohad Zwigenberg

Leaders of the largely Arab Joint List believe their party will be able to secure 15 Knesset seats in the upcoming election, after submitting their Knesset roster with no traces of the internal strife that plagued the list in the April and September elections.

After the four parties that compose the Joint List ran on two separate slates in the April election, and were dogged by internal arguments over the distribution of seats within the slate ahead of the September election, the parties are projecting an air of unity and optimism this time around.

Chairman of the Joint List Ahmad Tibi said the goal of 15 seats is possible, as did former party chairman Ayman Odeh in an interview with Haaretz.

According to Tibi, the slate’s involvement in social issues over recent months, namely in the struggle against violence in the Arab community and against a law that cracked down on illegal construction, dubbed the Kaminitz Law, has strengthened their position with the public. In addition, the fact that Meretz and Labor have shunted the Arab candidate on their roster from the first to the second group of 10, gives the Joint List a very good start. “We had 60 percent voter turnout [among the Arab community in the last election] and that means that 65 percent or higher is an achievable goal,” Tibi said.

Candidate number 15 on the ticket, Iman Khatib, representing the United Arab List, is also optimistic. “Back in September I thought that this was a realistic goal and now I feel it’s even more achievable,” she said. “I and my colleague Sondos Saleh, from Ta’al, who is number 14 on the ticket, are at a very important cutoff point. We’ll be appealing to female voters and asking for their support and participation, because more seats doesn’t only strengthen the Joint List, but also the representation of women in the party. I’m sure it will encourage people, mainly women, to vote and not be indifferent on Election Day,” Khatib said.

The Joint List believes that they will also be able to garner more support from Jewish voters in this election following the merger between Meretz and Labor, which alleviated fears that Meretz would fall below the electoral threshold. “The Joint List is the real social and diplomatic left,” said Ofer Cassif, the only Jewish MK on the Joint List slate. “Our main base is the Arab community, but I’m sure, especially after the Labor-Meretz merger, there are more than a few Jews who support our message,” he added, “we’ll turn to the Jewish community and emphasize that.”

Three Arab parties that ran independently in the previous election have decided not to run in March, further reducing the chance of lost votes. Two of these parties threw their support behind the Joint List. Although they only accounted for a few thousand votes, the step is seen as a move to boost confidence and reduce criticism of the Joint List.

Still, the enthusiasm in some of the Arab community is more muted. Prof. As’ad Ghanem, who had been key in promoting a new party that ran in the September election, said that despite all the reasons for optimism cited by members of the Joint List, there is quite a lot of criticism in the Arab community about political discourse in the party. “Ayman Odeh’s statement in Haaretz that Kahol Lavan treated the Joint List like a mistress is harsh and turns Arab voters off.” Odeh, Tibi and the Joint List in general have “adopted an approach that does not greatly differentiate them from the satellite parties of Mapai,” Ghanem said, referring to the forerunner of the Labor Party.

Ghanem noted what he said was an influx of “foreign money from American Jews, meant to encourage voting. It has dangerous implications and keeps many people from going out to vote.” Ghanem added that the potential was there to increase the party’s representation but that “it depends how the captains of the party navigate the ship.”

Ali Haider, a lawyer who also conducts research on Arab society warned against complacency and indifference on Election Day. “As opposed to the previous two elections, the atmosphere in the Arab political arena is fairly quiet, and apparently Netanyahu won’t use incitement against Arab society like he did in the September election, which encouraged people to go out and vote. So we have to work very hard until Election Day, and organizing on Election Day will also be very important.”