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Election Preview: Israel's Arab Vote

In 14 days, Israelis will head to the polls for the fourth time in two years. The situation looks different for Israel’s Arab citizens this time around. Not only has the political landscape changed, but increasing crime levels have left the Arab population increasingly disillusioned with their government representatives. What has changed since the last elections, and how might things play out on March 23rd?

The Arab Joint List was created before Israel’s 2015 parliamentary elections. The leaders of Israel’s four primarily Arab political parties united to run on a single legislative ticket, and over the past five years they have experienced unprecedented electoral success. The Joint List currently holds 15 seats in the Knesset, a record number, although that representation has not been parlayed into legislative influence. While reports indicate that Israel’s Arab citizens would like their political leadership to be more engaged in national governance and policy making, to date the Joint List has not been invited to join a governing coalition.

The stakes are different this election, with Mansour Abbas pulling his Islamist Ra’am party from the alliance. Abbas has indicated a willingness to work with Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Israeli right, separating him from the rest of Israel’s Arab political leadership. This change has two important implications. One is a predicted decline in enthusiasm for the Joint List, now with only three remaining parties. The other is an open question about whether Ra’am will receive enough votes to cross the electoral threshold and gain Knesset representation. If Ra’am fails to cross the threshold, those votes cannot be recast for another party and will not be represented. The likelihood is that one or both of these scenarios comes true, resulting in a relatively poorer electoral showing for Israel’s Arab parties.

But there is another issue that could serve to depress Arab voter turnout. Crime in Israel’s Arab communities has been rising to unacceptable levels, and the Arab population does not feel that it is receiving sufficient support from the national government. This is an issue that our partners at The Abraham Initiatives have been working on for years. The cabinet did approve a plan to combat crime in Arab communities, but the plan falls short according to Arab elected officials. The Abraham Initiatives said that “In the present situation, it’s impossible to make do with the steps proposed in the plan and to wait another half-year, in the best case, for approval of the five-year plan.” The disconnect between this new policy and the needs felt by Israel’s Arab citizens could also result in lower turnout later this month.

The two weeks before election day mean there is still time for silver linings. For one, the overall polling shows a divided populace. This means that, in theory, any party could be the one needed to form a 60-seat governing coalition. While the Arab parties have not participated in the government in the past, there was optimism that they would be invited to join the coalition following the March 2020 election, and some of that optimism remains. A lot can change between now and the 23rd and event afterwards, perhaps afterwards the political cards will be shuffled again before another election later this summer.


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