Kahol Lavan Is Betting on the Bedouin Vote, and It Just Might Pay Off

Weeks before election Gantz visits southern city of Rahat in bid to garner even more support from the Bedouin community than his party enjoyed in Israel's April vote

Kahol Lavan chairman Benny Gantz in the northern Negev city of Rahat, on Thursday, August 30, 2019.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Israel's main opposition party Kahol Lavan held on Thursday its first election event for the Bedouin community in the southern city of Rahat in an attempt to gain their votes ahead of the September 17 election. (Latest election polls – click here)

The city is home to more than 60,000 Bedouins, but so far Kahol Lavan leaders chose to keep their distance from it. Furthermore, Rahat mayor Talal Alkrinawi told Haaretz that excluding Meretz, the last time a Zionist party held an election event in Rahat was about a decade ago.

Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz arrived at the event – which was attended by some 300 residents – after visiting a number of other Bedouin communities.

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A breakdown of Bedouin voting patterns indicates that Kahol Lavan enjoys some popularity in Bedouin communities compared to other Jewish parties, except for Meretz. Considering the extremely low voter turnout in these communities – only about 50 percent cast ballots in the previous election – a Kahol Lavan campaign among the Bedouin could win the party some more votes. Perhaps the untapped potential of more than 16,000 Rahat residents who didn’t vote last time is what prompted Thursday’s event.

In April's election Kahol Lavan received about three percent – 600 of Bedouin votes, while the Arab parties won 88 percent. However, Kahol Lavan came in second among the Jewish parties behind Meretz, which led by a mere 78 votes. Since Yair Lapid and Gantz didn’t even make it to Rahat during that campaign, this was a relatively important achievement. The meager voter turnout in other Bedouin communities is similar to Rahat, as are the election results. Most of the votes go to Arab parties, with Meretz coming first among the Zionist choices and Kahol Lavan close behind.

Kahol Lavan chairman Benny Gantz in the northern Negev city of Rahat, on Thursday, August 30, 2019.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

In Tel Sheva, for example, the voter turnout was only about 31 percent, and 9,286 voters didn’t even go to the polls. Meretz received 108 votes there, compared to Kahol Lavan’s 98. Kahol Lavan received only some 200 votes less than Hadash-Ta’al, led by Ayman Odeh and Ahmad Tibi, the second largest Arab party in town, far behind Ra’am and Balad.

In some rare cases Kahol Lavan received more votes than the Arab parties, which will be running on a unified slate this time around. In the Abu Krinat tribe Kahol Lavan received 91 votes, coming second after Ra’am-Balad, which received 433. Hadash Ta’al received only 34 votes there.

Ahmad Abu Zayyad (31), a father of three, is a swimming instructor in Be’er Sheva and Rahat and a truck driver. “In the last election I voted for Balad because there was no other choice. Although I don’t believe in their ideology, I didn’t feel I belonged. I felt that the Arab parties’ MKs were fighting only for their Knesset seat,” Abu-Zayyad said.

“The Arab parties want to take down the right. Great, so do I, but it’s not enough reason for me to join a party. I think the Arab parties should have supported Benny Gantz in the last election. What’s wrong with that? He’s better than Netanyahu. You can’t strive to take down the right and not recommend Gantz. If they do that, they’re the ones enabling the right to remain in power.”

Abu Zayyad said he sees Gantz as the preferable candidate, because “he wants to fight crime in the Arab community, he wants to reach agreements on construction there, not only tear down. I think he wants to look after all Israel’s citizens, not like Netanyahu. I hope the Arabs fare better with Gantz, and he should be given a chance to prove it.”

Khalil Alkirinawi, 80, also plans to vote for Gantz. “We want him to form the government. He’s an honest man, less radical than Netanyahu. He’s interested in real peace. He won’t go to Washington but to Ramallah – they’ll talk to one another and not via America,” he said.

Kahol Lavan chairman Benny Gantz in the northern Negev city of Rahat, on Thursday, August 30, 2019.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

He dismissed Gantz’s belligerent statements regarding Gaza. “Lieberman also said things 400 times. Did anything happen?”

“I’m interested in reducing the extremism in Israel. Arabs and Jews together. It’s the second time I’ll be voting for Kahol Lavan, because they have a chance of forming a government. Neither the Arabs nor Labor, for which I voted in the past, have a chance.”

Gantz’s address was short and unsurprising. He spoke a lot about equality and mentioned an anectode from Operation Protective Edge in 2014 when he met a Bedouin farmer plowing the land next to the Gaza border. Nevertheless, some in the audience were visibly intrigued.

Mahmad Alkarnawi said he would vote for Gantz in the hope he could advance equality and revoke the nation state law. The Arab parties didn’t do enough on this issue because they’re not part of the governing coalition. “We need someone strong who is capable of doing that and ensuring minorities' rights,” he said.

Alluding to calls to legitimize the many unauthorized Bedouin communities that dot the Negev Isam Alkarnawi said it’s time to deal with the land problem, “and enable people to live in proper homes. “There must be equality regarding housing and lands, we want a proper home,” he said.

Aman named Wahib said he was there to listen and decide later. He said many people will vote for Gantz “because the Arab parties, which promised to take care of us, broke their promise. We want to give a chance to another party this time, a party which isn’t Arab.”