Lawmaker Sami Abu Shehadeh Wins Leadership Primary in Israeli Arab Party Balad

Party members say Abu Shehadeh's election reflects changing attitudes within the party ■ The four leaders of the Joint List are expected to meet today for the first time in weeks

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Newly elected leader of Balad, Abu Shahadeh hugs outgoing leader Mtanes Shahadeh after receiving the results from the primaries, January 2021.
Newly elected leader of Balad, Abu Shahadeh hugs outgoing leader Mtanes Shahadeh after receiving the results from the primaries, January 2021. Credit: Balad Party

Lawmaker Sami Abu Shehadeh was elected as the leader of the Balad faction within Israel's Arab-majority Joint List, ousting sitting party leader Mtanes Shehadeh.

The other three factions comprising the Joint List are Hadash, United Arab List and Ta’al. 

Abu Shehadeh, 45 from Jaffa, announced his plans to run for the position of party leader three weeks ago.

Lawmaker Heba Yazbak won second place on Balad's roster, and the third slot was filled by former Knesset member Juma Azbarga.

Newly elected members of the Balad party, January 2021. Credit: Balad Party

According to Balad's regulations, every contender for party leadership presents their proposed list of party members, and candidates that are unsuccessful in winning the leadership are forbidden from filling a different position in the party.

For this reason, Mtanes Shehadeh, who was elected to lead Balad in 2019 and was seeking re-election in the 2021 primaries, will not win a place on the list.

In the primaries, 397 committee members cast their vote, with 230 of them backing Abu Shehadeh. Members cast their vote at the party's headquarters in Nazareth.

After the results were announced, Abu Shehadeh said that "Balad is founded on democratic principles, justice and equality, all the while refusing to give up on our political line and values as an Arab minority."

"Thank you for everyone who voted for me out of faith that I will lead our political and parliamentary actions accordingly," he added.

According to Balad activists, Abu Shehadeh's win reflects the younger generation's disdain for older political mechanisms in the party, like those who supported Shehadeh. The party's new roster will influence proceedings with the Joint List, the sources said.

Members of the Joint List (L-R) Mansour Abbas, Aida Touma, Ahmad Tibi, Mtanes Shahadeh. Credit: Emil Salman

A Joint List meeting is expected to take place Sunday evening between party leaders for the first time in weeks. The meeting is taking place in the shadow of tensions with the Ra'am faction, following leader Mansour Abbas' newly forged closeness with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Party leaders Ahmad Tibi (Ta'al), Ayman Odeh (Hadash), Mtanes Shehadeh and Abbas will attend the meeting. Mohammad Barakeh, the director of High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, will also attend the meeting, and is expected to act as the mediator.

Leaders said they will do all they can to salvage the Joint List, which has been losing ground among its voters. 

Haaretz has learned that several of these parties are preparing for the dissolution of the Joint List. Hadash and Ra'am are planning to launch an election campaign independent of the Joint List on the chance the party falls apart.

Balad and Hadash already share a principle agreement on launching a joint campaign, and organizing proceedings separate from Ta'al.

Another possible merger exists between Ta'al and Ra'am, like in the 2019 April elections. Meanwhile, Ra'am is arranging proceedings with external candidates, in case the party chooses to run alone.  

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