Opinion |

Arab Voters, the Election Is in Your Hands

Uri Misgav
Uri Misgav
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Muslim voter at the northern village of Maghar, in 2021.
Muslim voter at the northern village of Maghar, in 2021.Credit: Gil Eliyahu
Uri Misgav
Uri Misgav

Decent Israelis have been reluctantly dragged into another unnecessary election. It’s a bummer. We had a good government that fell after a year in office. The national-religious-populist bloc, headed by a criminal defendant, is an existential danger to the country and poses a real threat to the future of Zionism and democracy. While election fatigue is understandable, so is the fear.

But dismay isn’t a strategy and apathy isn’t an operative program. The issue we face isn’t how Israel will look in another 20 years but what will happen in another three months. Our goal must be to again thwart Benjamin Netanyahu and the Haredim and hardalim (Haredi religious Zionists) who aid him. It can be done.

To prevent the Bibi-ist-Kahanist bloc from coming to power two conditions must be met. They emerge from all the research and polling and both sides recognize them. It’s a matter of numbers, not of assumptions or gut feelings.

The first is a merger, not a technical one, between the Labor and Meretz parties to avoid the risk that one or both will fall under the electoral threshold for entering the Knesset. The second is to raise the voter-turnout rate for Israeli Arabs, most of whom today vote for the Joint List or the United Arab List. These two parties together won 10 Knesset seats in the last elections when voter turnout for Arab was just 44.6 percent. If it were to grow to 55 percent, the two parties would capture 12 seats, and Netanyahu and Itamar Ben-Gvir would be history. It’s that simple.

But it doesn’t end there. If the turnout rate in the Arab community rose to 60 percent, they would get 13 seats. And if the rate were to reach the same level as that of Israeli Jews, the Arab parties would get between 15 and 16 seats. That sounds like a wild fantasy, but it actually happened two years ago.

We’re not talking about the maximum possible turnout level, which would give Israel’s Arab citizens no less than 24 seats, in line with their relative share in the population. Imagine a Knesset like that, imagine a country like that. That, by the way, is what happened with the Haredim. The reason the number of seats that United Torah Judaism and Shas win from election to election remains stable is because larger numbers of them are now voting for other parties of the right.

Netanyahu is well aware of the Arab-turnout problem. He still remembers how he defeated Shimon Peres and how he lost to Ehud Barak. That’s why in the 2015 election he warned that Arabs were heading to the polls in droves. It’s why his adviser and photographer Natan Eshel flew a trial balloon in the pages of Haaretz to gauge reaction to cooperation between the right and the Arab parties. It’s why he tried to attract Arab votes with his “Abu Yair” campaign. It was why he pursued Mansour Abbas and invited him to four meetings at the Balfour residence before he was dispatched to the opposition. It’s why he incited against the “government of change,” claiming that it was selling out the country to the Islamic Movement and calling Arab members of the Knesset supporters of terrorism. It’s why his current election campaign is occupied with just one thing: A government led by Yair Lapid reliant on the support of the Joint List.

To his great fortune, and as hard as it is to believe, he is getting aid and assistance from Arabs themselves. The voters who don’t trouble to exercise their rights (more than half, as noted above), those who have responded to the delegitimization of Arab participation and incitement against the Arab elected officials by internalizing the message. It seems they want to bring about the dream of Netanyahu and Ben-Gvir.

The reasons are achingly familiar – the Nakba, the October 2000 riots, racism, the nation-state law, alienation, deprivation, discrimination, exclusion, their status as second-class citizens who, in the eyes of the state, don’t count.

Let’s assume, just for the sake of discussion, that everything is true. Then the conclusion should be just the opposite: Instead of passivity and endless sacrifice, exercise the right to vote and attain political power. Learn from the Haredim, who aren’t Zionists either. Go vote like the Jews, and no one will ever again consider not counting you. The choice, and the election, is in your hands.

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