Arab Citizens of Israel Split Over Leadership of Party Meant to Represent Them

Forty-seven percent of Israel Arabs would prefer lawmaker Ahmad Tibi as chair of Join List political party over the current leader, Ayman Odeh

FILE PHOTO: MKs Ahmad Tibi and Ayman Odeh (Joint List), June 29, 2015.
Olivier Fitoussi

Forty-seven percent of Arabs who hold Israeli citizenship would prefer lawmaker Ahmad Tibi as chair of Join List political party over the current leader in the upcoming election, according to a poll published in Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth.

Current party chairman, Ayman Odeh, received support by only 20 percent of Arab voters. 

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The poll also found that Tibi's party Ta'al would receive 43 percent of Arab votes if the election was held today, compared with 38 percent who said they'd vote for an alliance of the other Arab parties. Tibi submitted a request on Tuesday to split from the Joint List. 

The Joint List was formed in 2014 after Israel raised the electoral threshold to 3.25 percent, making it likelier that individual parties representing Israel's Arab population could be shut out of the Knesset unless they allied with other parties. It is currently the third-largest bloc in the Knesset. 

It's an alliance of several Arab and Arab-Jewish political parties, consisting of Hadash, United Arab List, Balad and Tibi's Ta’al.

In addition, according to the poll, 46 percent of Arab voters are not pleased with the Joint List's performance in the current Knesset compared with 42 percent who said they are pleased. Fifty-two percent said the Joint List does not represent them as Israeli Arabs, or represents them in a limited way, compated with 44 percent that said they feel represented. 

The poll also found that five percent of Arabs in Israel would vote for Meretz, four for the Likud and three to Labor. 

Polls released Wednesday by the Israel Television News Company and Kan public television projected that the Joint List would win 12 seats in the upcoming election, making it the third- or fourth-largest Knesset bloc. 

Tibi's decision to split from the Joint List comes after months in which he has urged open primaries for Joint List candidates, or a distribution of parties' seats within the alliance based on public surveys, partly in the hopes of increasing Ta'al's strength. The other three Joint List parties did not cooperate with his efforts.

"The one who wants to see the Joint List break up more than anyone is Netanyahu," Odeh said after Tibi's request was submitted. "Those who want to divide and conquer the Arabs are the radical right. I am proud to be part of a party that can put ideology above personal interests." 

A number of Joint List members of Knesset have recently announced that they will not run in the upcoming election: Haneen Zoabi and Jamal Zahalka, both of the Balad party, and Dov Khenin of Hadash