Refugees From the Zionist Left: How the Jewish Vote for Arab Party Spiked in Israel's Election

Support for largely Arab Joint List in heavily Jewish communities said to have risen from 9,000 votes to 20,000

הגר שיזף
Hagar Shezaf
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An Israeli Arab woman casting a ballot in in the Western Galilee village of Tamra, March 2, 2020.
An Israeli Arab woman casting a ballot in in the Western Galilee village of Tamra, March 2, 2020. Credit: AFP
הגר שיזף
Hagar Shezaf

Miriam Maikin, 75, from Kfar Haim in the Hefer Valley, knows who deserves credit for her decision to vote for the Joint List for the first time, after a lifetime of supporting leftist Zionist parties: Kahol Lavan chairman MK Benny Gantz.

“When he says he isn’t even prepared for Arabs to support the government from the outside, that’s the moment I decided to vote for the Joint List,” she explains. “A whole community is supposed to be untouchable? It would have been better if he had said nothing, but they [Kahol Lavan] are acting like the Arabs have coronavirus.”

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Maikin is part of a trend that’s not big in terms of numbers, but is notable for its rate of expansion – the Jews who voted for the Joint List. According to data seen by journalist Itay Mashiah, the Joint List received some 20,000 votes in communities made up of more than 75 percent Jewish voters. In the September election, Mashiah says, the Joint List received only 9,000 votes in the polling stations of those communities.

The Joint List’s campaign director in Hebrew, Nimrod Fleishenberg, told Haaretz that he believed most of the increase in Jewish voters for the slate came from mixed cities like Haifa and Tel Aviv-Jaffa. Still, because it’s impossible to precisely separate voter data into Jewish and Arab votes in those cities, an exact figure for Jewish voters for the Joint List cannot be arrived at.

Miriam Maikin, 75, from Kfar Haim.Credit: Avishag Shaar-Yashuv

But voter statistics in cities with clear Jewish majorities also show an increase in percentage of support for the Joint List, although in raw numbers it’s still a tiny minority. In Ramat Gan, for example, in the September election 0.33 percent of voters (289) chose the Joint List. This time, the number doubled to 0.66 percent (573).

In Ra’anana the Joint List went from 0.13 percent of the vote in September (57 votes) to 0.27 percent (117 votes) in the current round. In Ramat Hasharon the figure was 0.56 percent (152 votes), twice the number in September. In Kfar Vradim in the upper Western Galilee, support for the Joint List went from 0.94 percent to 1.55 percent, and in Klil, also a Western Galilee Jewish community, votes for the Joint List jumped from 6.33 percent in September to 12.21 percent this week.

At the same time, figures show that in communities with Jewish majorities, support for Labor-Gesher-Meretz took a dive in this week’s election compared to September. In September Meretz received 13.48 percent of the votes in Kfar Vradim and Labor-Gesher 9.91 percent. But the unified slate that ran in the current election only garnered 15.17 percent of the vote. In Ramat Hasharon, in the September election 6.9 percent of voters cast their ballots for Labor-Gesher and 10.85 percent for the Democratic Union (a short-lived alliance of Meretz and mainly Laborites), while in the current election, only 10.85 percent of the votes went to Labor-Gesher-Meretz.

‘Solidarity vote’

“I couldn’t decide until the morning of the election,” Aviv Hochbaum, 31, of Tel Aviv, says. Hochbaum was a Meretz voter for years. “But I felt a lack of confidence, understanding and clarity about what Meretz is today, all their unification moves recently showed panic and ambiguity.” Hochman, who is a lesbian, says she had voted Meretz because of its support for the LGBT community. And so how does her vote for the Joint List coexist with her membership in this community? “I feel that as a lesbian woman in Tel Aviv, my life is more comfortable and safer than that of the Arab population, and I need to give them my vote,” she says.

Aviv Hochbaum, 31, from Tel Aviv. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Meital, 31, also from Tel Aviv, had been a lifelong Likud voter. But this week, she voted for the Joint List. “I voted Likud thinking that [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is a leader with experience who can be relied on. I didn’t see anyone who could replace him,” she says. “But recently I started thinking about it differently – not to vote according to the question of who would be prime minister, but who would best reflect my values and my desire for a more tolerant society.” Meital says she prefers that only her first name be used because of what she says is the harsh atmosphere in the street.

Eli Barkat, 51, from Jerusalem, is a former secretary of the Jerusalem branch of Meretz. He voted for the Joint List back in September already, after Meretz joined Ehud Barak’s Democratic Union, when he said, “Messages were blurred and the campaign didn’t talk about fighting the occupation, Arab-Jewish partnership or the Trump plan.” Like Hochbaum, Barkat says his vote for the Joint List required him to hold back to some extent on ideological points.

Eli Barkat, 51, from Jerusalem.Credit: Emil Salman

“My vote is first of all a vote of solidarity. I have differences of opinion with United Arab List-Ta’al and Balad,” he said, referring to two components of the Joint List, ”and I consciously gave up on certain ideological points. I hope that in the next election there will be a Jewish-Arab party that will create real cooperation,” Barkat adds.

Tal Avrech, 33, from Tel Aviv had been a Meretz voter, then she moved to the socialist, mainly Arab party Hadash (the largest faction in the Joint List), then to Labor, and says she had been undecided for a long time. “The Joint List has a lot of people who represent me and a lot who don’t,” she says. “I’m a feminist and it’s hard for me to vote for people that I don’t necessarily see as enthusiastic supporters of women’s rights. I’m not a religious person at all – so just like I wouldn’t vote for [the ultra-Orthodox party] Shas, it’s hard for me to vote for an Islamic party.”

Nevertheless, Avrech says, “I have no problem with Palestinian nationalism and as a Jew I’m privileged because I’m part of the national group that has the control. I think that the Palestinians also deserve this voice because there is a group here that defines itself as Palestinian.”

Until this week, Maikin had also been a Meretz voter. When asked why she abandoned the party, she said: “Meretz is no longer a party, and the fact that Orli Levi-Abekasis [of Gesher] was previously with [Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor] Lieberman is hard for me to swallow.” However, Maiken said she had difficulty voting for the Joint List because of the Islamic party that makes up part of its roster. “They are like our ultra-Orthodox, but I can swallow it because of my concern for democracy and racism that’s spreading in Israel.”

In her moshav of Kfar Haim, the Joint List only received two votes. “Some people are angry at me over my vote, friends of mine too,” she says. “But with my Arab acquaintances I feel a new kind of solidarity, we’re together in something.”

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