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The hottest commodity on the political market: Israeli Arabs

To all courting this sector's vote: they won't suddenly call themselves Zionists or support the nation-state law, but they are eager to bridge the gaps in our society, together
Medical staff prepare to administer Pfizer COVID-19 coronavirus vaccines at a COVID-19 vaccination center, January 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Medical staff prepare to administer Pfizer COVID-19 coronavirus vaccines at a COVID-19 vaccination center, January 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

The recent political poll by Manu Geva broadcasted on Israel’s Channel 12 this week, shows the Joint List emerging with only 10 mandates — meaning that the party has lost a stunning one-third of its power. The same results can be seen in a recent poll by Camil Fuchs on Israel’s Channel 13. Both polls indicate a sharp decline for the party similar to the low voter turnout which we saw in the April 2019 elections, with voter turnout out at an all-time low (below 50 percent).

Other polls confirm this trend, with the Dayan Center’s poll last month revealing that expected voter turnout for the upcoming elections is exceptionally low, just 55.6% of overall voters. The result of these polls show a new atmosphere in which political parties across a broad spectrum are intensely courting the Israeli-Arab public.

In three elections in the past two years, not a single party list has had the intuition nor the foresight to appeal to the Arab sector. Aside from the fact that not a single party made an effort to ensure it had an Arab member on its list, Meretz even downgraded Issawi Frej, who easily brought in a mandate and a half from the Arab sector, to an inconsequential place.

However, Israeli Arabs have undergone a process in which their desire to influence and be part of the political game has intensified. The Joint List gained seats in the recent three consecutive elections from April 2019 to March 2020, reaching a peak of 15 mandates. In between these election campaigns, in which no government was formed, there was no time period in which the Joint List was measured by its actions, but only by its words and promises, with a very specific campaign platform and a virtually complete absence of an alternative for the Arab vote.

With the establishment of the latest government, the Joint List had its chance again to prove itself. Yet nothing happened. Instead of our elected officials taking action and dealing with violence and crime, the Arab population has been dealing with one of our deadliest years yet, with 2020 registering 113 murders. Instead of our leaders actively dealing with the coronavirus, the Arab sector was hit particularly hard, while the Joint List was barely present in the sector. The mayor of the largest Arab city, Nazareth, has also attested to this in his statements about how severely the city was affected during this time.

Moreover, instead of taking a positive stance towards the Abraham Accords, from which the Arab sector has the most to gain from economic and financial ties and opportunities in the tourism industry, the MKs of the Joint List voted against it!

Meanwhile, the economic divides continue to compound, and the socio-economic crises deepen. Yet Israeli-Arabs have discovered that despite a record number of Arab members of Knesset to represent them, they have been left behind.

This has brought about the winds of change in the Arab sector, which Mansour Abbas correctly identified when he called on his party to rethink their party line on key issues and play the political game differently by not excluding anyone and putting the interests of the Arab sector first.

Now the hottest and most sought-after commodity on the market is the Arab-Israeli vote. Suddenly, parties that invalidated and rejected the Arabs from the get-go are intensively courting Arab-Israelis. The most surprising being the wooing that is coming from the right. Contrary to what critics say, this is a positive step, as it renders the Arab public integral players in Israeli politics, a decisive element that may be even the tiebreaker.

All this being said, it is important to take heed: Israeli Arabs will not rush to support just any election campaign or political promises. The Arab public is smarter than that.

In order to create a real political alternative, actions are required: allocation of real Arab representation, and the presentation of a working plan to solve the critical problems facing the Arab sector. Foremost, plans to eradicate the violence and crime, but also to advance socio-economic issues, and to improve education and infrastructure.

The Arab sector will not change. Israeli-Arabs will not suddenly call themselves Zionists nor will they support the nation-state law. But what we can build together are bridges across the socio-economic gaps in Israeli society, and work together to this end, in a partnership. The national fight against the coronavirus is a perfect example of how we work together constructively, Jews and Arabs, side by side in the hospitals. This is how we should be working collectively, everywhere in all arenas.

The magic word here is “cooperation.” In the past, this word did not exist in the political lexicon of the Arab parties in almost 73 years, since the establishment of the State of Israel. This is the new voice of the Arab public, this is what it wants. A true partnership. That is the only way to advance and propel the Arab sector forward.

The over 180,000 people who voted for the Joint List in the last elections have abandoned it and together with tens of thousands of others, are looking for a new political home. The big question of the upcoming elections is, and perhaps it will be this question that determines its outcome: Who will be the true alternative for the Arab vote?

About the Author
Yoseph Haddad is an Israeli-Arab activist and CEO of the organization Together Vouch for Each Other that works to connect the Arab sector to Israeli society. 
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