Tuesday, September 29, 2020

High Arab voter turnout as Joint List becomes 3rd-largest party

By Yehudit Tzfat - September 22, 2019
Section: [Main News]
Tags: [elections]

The Joint List has emerged as the third-largest party in the Knesset, after nearly 60 per cent of Arab voters turned out to vote in the recent Israeli elections on 17 September. 

The Joint List, an alliance of four Arab-majority parties, gained 13 seats, according to the Central Election Committee’s nearly final results.  

In April’s elections, only 49.2 per cent of Arab-Israeli voters cast their ballots. Then, the four Arab parties ran on two separate lists and achieved 10 seats between them. This month’s do-over election sparked fears of low voter turnout in Arab communities amid a rise in right-wing extremist rhetoric. 

But this time around, the parties reunified causing a surge in Arab voter turnout with estimations at over 59 per cent. According to Joint List Chairman, Ayman Odeh, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fear-mongering contributed to Arab voters turning out in droves. 

“Netanyahu incited against us and led to a dramatic rise in voter turnout in our sector. This is election drama because we are now a force that comprises a real alternative to the political map in Israel," Odeh said.

Netanyahu was accused of trying to suppress the Arab vote by focusing his campaigns on high Arab voter turnout and claims of voter fraud, drawing charges of anti-Arab racism. 

Arab politicians in a left-wing government were the focal point of Netanyahu’s campaign tactics in an attempt to motivate right-wing supporters to the polls. Just before election day, Netanyahu’s Facebook chatbot sent out a message saying Arab politicians “want to destroy us all – women, children and men – and enable a nuclear Iran that would wipe us out”. 

The prime minister blamed the message on a campaign staffer and said he ordered it deleted once he was aware of it. Yet Netanyahu’s continued demonisation of Arab politicians created a self-fulfilling prophecy where the nightmare scenario he painted for supporters seems to be coming to fruition. 

"The Netanyahu era is over, and his fate is either to go home or go to prison. And we'll just say, 'the deal of the century' no longer exists," MK leader of the Arab Ta’al party, Ahmad Tibi said.

In contrast to the previous election, voting went relatively smoothly on Tuesday. While April’s election saw hidden Likud cameras at Arab polling stations, expected challenges did not occur this time around. 

Some stations saw members of polling station committees carrying weapons leading to confrontations, but these incidents were few and did not affect voting. 

The Joint List is now considering whether to recommend Netanyahu’s rival and Blue and White leader, Benny Gantz, as prime minister to President Reuven Rivlin. If so, this would be the first time the Arab parties have recommended a candidate since former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.

And if a unity government is formed between Likud and Blue and White, Odeh could become Israel’s first Arab opposition leader — a role allowing him access to security briefings. 

However, Joint List leaders have made it clear that certain demands must be met before offering their support, including renewing negotiations surrounding the peace process and better conditions for Israel’s Arab communities.

“We want to replace the Netanyahu government, but we are not in anyone’s pocket,” Odeh said. 

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