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PODCAST: Will Netanyahu's attempt to suppress the Palestinian vote backfire?

In the lead up to the Sept. 17 elections, Benjamin Netanyahu has escalated his racist incitement against Palestinians. The +972 Podcast talks to Adalah’s Sawsan Zaher about how these attacks are affecting Palestinian voters.

Joint List party leader Ayman Odeh films Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a discussion on the "camera law" at the Knesset in Jerusalem on September 11, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Joint List party leader Ayman Odeh films Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a discussion on the so-called camera law at the Knesset in Jerusalem on September 11, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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Facebook temporarily suspended Benjamin Netanyahu’s official Facebook page Thursday after followers received a message calling on voters to prevent the establishment of a government with Arabs “who want to annihilate us all.”

Netanyahu said the message was a staffer’s mistake, but as the country prepares for a second national election in the span of six months, he has intensified his racist incitement against Palestinian citizens of Israel. Whereas in 2015, he tried to appeal to his voter base by warning of Arabs going to vote “in droves,” now he is openly accusing Palestinian voters of voter fraud and of “stealing” the elections. There is no evidence that voter fraud is more common among Palestinian citizens.

On Election Day in April, a settler-aligned public relations firm and Netanyahu’s Likud party led a voter intimidation campaign targeting Palestinian voters, placing around 1,300 cameras exclusively in Arab or Arab-majority areas. This contributed to the lowest voter participation rate among Palestinian voters in decades.

“We know for sure that in the April 2019 election the cameras did affect the number of people who went out to vote,” says Sawsan Zaher, deputy general director and an attorney at Adalah, the legal center for Palestinian rights in Israel, on the latest episode of The +972 Podcast.

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For Palestinian voters, who make up 16 percent of the voting population in Israel, the Sept. 17 elections — which, in some ways, are the first following the passing of the Jewish-Nation State Law — are about “survival,” says Zaher. “It’s all the time the struggle of first of all, keeping our voice. Second of all, trying to challenge racist laws and policies. Third of all, trying to keep our voice of calling for equality and the end of the occupation.”

While the Joint List, the slate uniting the four major Arab parties which first ran in 2015, is making a comeback, Zionist parties are also courting Palestinian voters in an attempt to score enough seats to unseat Netanyahu. According to Zaher, this has always been the case. She believes Arabs casting their ballot for Zionist parties is “illegitimate and unjustified.”

“If Netanyahu will be replaced, there will come another Netanyahu, but in different name, shape and face. However you look at it, with the nominees that are [running] now, it doesn’t matter who the person is, we’re talking about a racist system.”

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    1. Tarphon Cohen

      “Palestinians” do not participate in Israeli elections. Only Israelis do.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Great point, Einstein!

        Israel has occupied them and ruled over them militarily for 51 years, annexed them in all but name, but they don’t get to vote. This is known objectively as Apartheid. And though Israelis living outside Israel in Europe or the USA don’t get to vote in Israeli elections, Israelis living outside Israel in the occupied territories get to vote. I think we should follow your usage practices and call then “Israelis” not Israelis. What do you think?

        I’m inaugurating a new sweepstakes: Inadvertently Making the Point While Also Missing the Point. You’ll have some world champion competitors here but you’re off to a good start.

        Reply to Comment
        • Itshak Gordine

          “Palestinians” vote in Ramallah. It is true that within the “Palestinian” Authority there are no more elections for a long time.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            That is an obvious lie, Halevy. Subtlety is not your forte is it? Israel is the sole sovereign in the entire land between the river and the sea. And it denies representation to the millions of people it ruthlessly controls. Based on ethnicity.

            As far as your statement, below, it also is obviously not true that “[+972 Magazine] editors start from a bad assumption that the Arab-Israeli conflict is at the center of Israel’s concerns,” if “Israel” means the Jewish public and its successive right wing governments. Anyone paying attention here knows that the editors start from anything but that assumption, they start from the opposite assumption. The editors have no illusions about this. It is kind of the Magazine’s raison d’etre that its editors start from the assumption opposite the one you claim they start from. The latest obvious refutation of your claim is in Natasha Roth’s article today.

            What other false statements would you like to discuss?

            Reply to Comment
    2. Tommy Goldberg

      “Arabs who want to annihilate us all”
      “Arabs, who want to annihilate us all”

      One describes a tiny group of genocidal criminals, the other is racist stereotyping of the worst kind. So which meaning did the Hebrew original convey (or was it ambiguous)?

      Reply to Comment
    3. itshak Gordine

      Your editors start from a bad assumption that the Arab-Israeli conflict is at the center of Israel’s concerns. You are totally wrong. This is the least of our worries. What matters to us is the economy, education, the conflict with Iran, the situation in hospitals, the price of housing, all in the interest of the entire Israeli population, of Jewish religion or not. Arab parties run for election and experts say they will make an excellent score with at least 12 Knesset MPs, the third largest party in the country.

      Reply to Comment