The campaign slogan adopted by the Hadash-Ta’al joint ticket, headed by MKs Ayman Odeh and Ahmad Tibi, is “We’re flocking to the polls!” The party thereby seeks to turn on its head the despicable remark made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Election Day in 2015 – “The Arabs are heading to the polls in droves.” Netanyahu used this slogan to frighten his voters and spur them to get out and vote.
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But data published by Haaretz this week shows that actually, about half the Arab community doesn’t plan on flocking to any polls. The internal survey, commissioned by Hadash-Ta’al and conducted over the last few days, forecasts a decline of 19 percent in Arab turnout compared to the last election, when the voting rate was 63 percent.
Last election’s relatively high turnout was attributed to the formation of the Arab parties’ Joint List, which was a response to the decision to raise the electoral threshold – the brainchild of MK Avigdor Lieberman, whose goal was to make it harder for Arab parties to enter the Knesset. But back then, the Arab parties had the sense to unite and managed to turn bitter into sweet. The joint ticket won 13 seats, making it the third-largest party in the Knesset.
The low turnout predicted this time around is partly due to disappointment over the fact that the Joint List fell apart. But it’s also a response to the ongoing incitement against Arab citizens by the ruling party and its partners on the right, as well as by many members of the opposition, who don’t see the Arabs as legitimate partners for a political alliance or even political cooperation.
From the right wing headed by Netanyahu, which has poisoned the public atmosphere and is nourished politically by divisiveness and incitement, we no longer expect anything. After all, this is the prime minister’s strategy – to make Arab citizens and their elected representatives illegitimate, and thereby to forestall any governing coalition that includes them.
But the people who pretend to pose an alternative to Netanyahu’s divisive, racist politics are also contributing their share. Benny Gantz recently said, “The Arab Israelis’ political leadership made a big mistake. It speaks out against Israel. Therefore, I can’t hold a political dialogue with them.” And his partner in the Kahol Lavan joint ticket, Yair Lapid, made it clear years ago that he won’t form a blocking majority with the Arabs.
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This is a serious mistake. High turnout among Arab Israelis isn’t only critical to bolster their sense of belonging to the state; it’s also a necessary condition for replacing the government. Netanyahu understands this very well. That’s why he has made keeping the Arabs away from the polls a key political goal – in order to keep the left out of power.
If Kahol Lavan wants to gain power, it needs to come to its senses and extend a hand to the Arab community. The opposition has both a moral and a political responsibility to give the Arabs good reason to head to the polls in droves.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.