Politics

Israel’s Arab minority, key to the looming elections

By Pablo Duer

Umm al-Fahm, Israel, Oct 29 (EFE).- Israel’s Arab minority will play a key role in the November 1 elections — the anticipated low turnout and polling could help former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu back to power but his far-right partners might force Arab parties into the opposition, shaking up the parliamentary equation.

The topic dominates media coverage of the upcoming polls. Numbering roughly two million, Arab Israelis make up 20% of Israel’s population and 15% of the electorate.

For decades, Arab political parties were absent from politics and government, but that has now changed.

A NEW DIRECTION

The United Arab List, commonly known as Ra’am in Hebrew, made history in 2021 when it became part of an Israeli government. It marked a substantial change in approach and signaled a growing political participation by Israel’s Arab community, which is comprised of Palestinians and Arabs who were settled within Israel’s borders after its 1948 founding

A year later, with the government broken down over ideological differences and a new vote on the horizon, the United Arab List has pinned its hopes on the Arab electorate once again.

For some, the United Arab List’s involvement in government marked a milestone in Arab political activity although others believed it demonstrated that not even active participation in the executive can help solve the issues facing the community, which include marginalization and organized crime.

Mudar Younes, mayor of Ar’ara and head of the national committee of Arab mayors in Israel, says the United Arab List has been part of a “failed experiment” and is one of the main contributors to the historic levels of political apathy in the Arab community.

The expected turnout from the Arab community in the upcoming elections, the fourth in four years, could be as low as 40%, according to the mayor.

“Many people feel like their vote doesn’t change anything, that the Knesset (parliament) does not represent us,” he tells Efe.

He urges people to vote, saying the future of the Arab Israeli community should not be left in the hands of Israeli lawmakers.

When it comes to low turnout, another factor in play is the internal schism in the United Arab List, a coalition of three Arab parties.

The Tal and Hadash factions of the United Arab List are running together but the nationalist Balad has split from the group, which will jeopardize its chances of entering the Knesset, for which it needs a minimum of 3.25% of the national vote .

Younes Jabareen, a resident of Umm al-Fahm, a predominantly Arab city, tells Efe: “If our parties ran together, as the settlers do, more people would go out to vote and we would have more influence.”

THE ANTI-ARAB FAR-RIGHT

Beyond the internal tug-of-war in the United Arab List, an external factor has crept into Israeli politics.

The Religious Zionist Party, a far-right and racist formation that advocates for the deportation of Arab citizens, looks set to become the third political power in Israel. Its close ties to Netanyahu and his right-wing bloc could see the hardline party form part of a government.

A low turnout from the Arab Israeli community could tip the balance of power in favor of Netanyahu by lowering the number of votes required for each Knesset seat.

The apparent upward trajectory of far-right Israeli parties has sounded alarm bells among Arab political leaders.

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