Analysis

Israel Election: Poor Results Show It's Time for Arab Parties to Do Some Soul-searching

Arab lawmakers have only themselves to blame for Tuesday's low voting turnout

A vandalized campaign banner for the Balad party, in the Arab village of Reineh, April 7, 2019.
Gil Eliahu

Whether or not the Ra'am-Balad party passes the threshold and makes it into Israel's 21st Knesset, all the Arab parties, along with all those who claim to represent Arab society in Israel, need to do some soul-searching.

For the 2015 election, the Arab parties merged to form the Joint List, and that united front reaped 13 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. But the alliance didn't hold, for the simple reason that the four parties comprising it - Hadash, Ra'am, Ta'al and Balad - couldn't find a way to cooperate in practice.

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Despite their attempts at displaying unity, they didn't connect on the ground, leading to internal fighting over their conflicting narrow interests. This exacerbated the disgust among voters who don’t particularly identify with any one of the parties. Those people may have voted in 2015, but this time, they just stayed home.

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The Arab Knesset members could justifiably argue that most of the time, they do act for the good of their constituents. But in the shadow of the extreme-right government and its campaign to delegitimize them, led by Netanyahu, they had little influence. The enactment of laws like the so-called "nation-state law" contributed enormously to the loss of faith in the Israeli establishment and in the Knesset.

The Arab parties noticed that the younger generation, which keeps closer track of social media than of parliamentary activity, was sick of them. Some of them can't even name the Arab parties, politicians, or the differences between them.

They have only themselves to blame. They abandoned activity on university campuses, which have been a hothouse of political activity for generations and play a large role in shaping the younger generation's political positions. In recent years, the Arab parties have hardly showed up there, which helps explain why so many of the younger Arab generation said they couldn't vote and had no interest in politics.

Feelings of anger, frustration and apathy were palpable throughout the Arab Israeli community. Those feelings couldn't be resolved by Arab party leaders' last-minute appeals to exercise their basic rights, get out and vote. Given the public sentiment and the way the parties behaved, the party leaders must rethink, and so should anybody who professes to influence the public discourse in Arab society.

The moment the final count is in, the focus will be on building the next coalition, but the Arab parties need to reach deep, search their souls, and change course. If they don't, the fall – which may not have happened this time around – will come, and it will be even harder.