This week, Israelis cast their votes in the Israeli election. Prime Minister Netanyahu and his Likud party won by a small margin, and he is poised to form a governing coalition comprised of mainly right-wing parties. Although the centrist Blue and White Party headed by Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid won the same number of seats as Likud, they do not have enough support from other parties to form a coalition.
In a previous blog, we wrote about the importance of Arab Israeli citizens participation in the political process. The election results reveal exceptionally low voter turnout in Arab communities. Only 49% of Arab citizens went to the polls, down from 64% in the 2015 election. In this election, there was strong pressure among the Arab community to boycott voting to show their discontent with Israeli policies.
We previously predicted that the passage of the Nation State Law would affect the decision among Arab voters to stay home on election day. I believe the reduced turnout can be attributed to many Arabs feeling a loss of faith in Israeli governing institutions to represent them. During the campaign, the Likud party made inciteful claims against the Arab minority, warning that Lapid and Gantz would establish an opposition bloc with the Arabs, and that Arab parties “would act to eliminate Israel.” On election day, Likud party observers were caught concealing 1,200 hidden cameras in polling stations, mainly in majority-Arab communities. They justified their behavior by claiming they were trying to prevent voter fraud.
Understandably, feelings of frustration and indifference were felt throughout the Arab Israeli community. Arab party leaders were not able to convince high numbers of voters in last-minute appeals to exercise their right to vote. While in 2015, Arab parties combined to run as the Joint List to gain more seats in the Knesset, this year they ran independently as a result of internal conflicts, and only two parties, Hadash Ta’al and Ra’am Balad, participated in the election. Hadash Ta’al won six seats and Ra’am Balad won four, for a combined 10 seats, down from 13 in the 2015 election.
We know the Arab electorate comprises 16.5% of eligible voters, a far greater percentage of the population than will be represented in the Knesset. The lower turnout will have implications for the full participation and inclusion of Israel’s Arab citizens – a trend that I hope is reversed in the coming years thanks to the efforts of our partner organizations.