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Why Palestinian citizens don't vote in Israeli elections

Israeli society’s neglect of the Arab community over the past 20 years has left many Arab citizens with feelings of antagonism or apathy towards the “only democracy in the Middle East.”

By Thair Abu-Rass

Balad Elections signs in Arabic (photo: Roee Ruttenberg)

With the Knesset elections only a day away, speculation about the final outcome is at its peak. Most analysts agree that these elections are unpredictable, with the exception of two facts: Bibi Netanyahu will be elected as prime minister, and there will be a considerable boycott of the election among the Palestinian Arab community in Israel.

A Haifa University study conducted last month claimed that only 50.7 percent of the Arab citizens eligible to vote will exercise their right to do so. In other words, half of the Arab population in Israel has lost faith in the political system and in the Arab MKs’ ability to affect the national agenda.

Arab participation in Israeli elections has been in decline over the past decade-and-a-half. In the 1999 elections, 75% participated; however, in the 2009 elections only 53% voted, and according to some polls, this number is only expected to decrease.

Some Israeli analysts claim that the decline in Arab participation is a result of the frustration from Arab lawmakers, but this is only partly true. Historically, the percentage of Arab voters has been similar to that of Jewish ones. In previous elections, the decline in the Arab vote has been met with apathy from the Jewish population in the country.

The situation has changed this time. Several Israeli newspapers have run opinion columns this week calling on Arabs to vote. The Haaretz newspaper took an unusual step of printing an editorial in Arabic encouraging Arabs to vote. Labor party leader Shelly Yacimovich began an extensive last-minute campaign on Arab websites and Arabic-language social media networks, also hoping to grudge out a few more Arab votes.

This effort could be too little, too late. The Israeli society’s neglect of the Arab community over the past 20 years has led many Arabs to have feelings of antagonism or apathy toward the “only democracy in the Middle East.” “This is not our country,” and “they are all anti-Arab” are just some of the comments I have been hearing over the past two months. The Arabs see no difference between the parties, whether it is the liberal Left or the hawkish Right. Neither side has accepted the Arab minority as a legitimate member with aspirations in a democratic and multi-cultural Israeli society.

In order to get the Arab vote out, the governments of Israel must stop alienating and marginalizing Arab political parties and Arab citizens must be reconsidered as part of the political game. In addition, there is a need to encourage a civic political discourse at the expense of national politics: a discourse based on civil rights and the creation of a secular political system that truly represents all citizens.

Moreover, the Israeli left must re-seek the peace flag, which has been neglected after the second Intifada. There is little doubt that the negligence of the peace process by the Labor Party has jeopardized its status in the Arab community.

In a poisoned political atmosphere that enhances Jewish supremacy over the democratic character of the state and with the introduction of various anti-democratic bills and laws, Arabs will naturally find themselves out of the political system.

Most polls indicate that the right wing enjoys a solid lead of about 300,000 votes. It is expected that the number of Arabs not heading to the polls will stand at 400,000. With a voting ratio of 95-5 in favor of the center-left within the Palestinian population, just do the math!

Thair Abu-Rass is the Director of the Fair Representation & Employment Equity project at Sikkuy – The Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality in Israel.

Haaretz prints editorial in Arabic, urging Palestinian citizens to vote
Solidarity, not directions: On Haaretz’s Arabic editorial
Final Israeli elections poll: Netanyahu’s bloc with a clear majority

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    1. Kolumn9

      Why would an Israeli right-wing government make any effort to stop alienating and marginalizing Israeli Arabs when the Israeli Arab disengagement from electoral politics is what allows it to run the government in the first place?

      I think they did the math.

      The other problem is that most Israeli Jews don’t see any particular difference between the Arab parties and see them all as effectively Palestinian nationalist parties that support all external actors that work towards the destruction of Israel while taking political positions just at the edge which would not get them banned. There is no meeting half way there. It really comes back to such simple issues as whether this ‘secular democratic state’ that you suggest that encourages the participation of all would still be called Israel given the vile hatred that the seemingly dominant Israeli Arab political narrative has towards the state and all its symbols and institutions?

      Reply to Comment
    2. “there is a need to encourage a civic political discourse at the expense of national politics: a discourse based on civil rights and the creation of a secular political system that truly represents all citizens.” : Yet one more time: the Israeli Declaration of Independence has the means to begin active crafting of this discourse. But the High Court has shown itself so servile and impotent against the government few believe the promise of the Declaration will ever be fulfilled. The High Court must establish in independence somehow, somewhere.

      The IDF’s refusal to redress unneeded harm in occupation policing further alienates Arab Israelis, being another signal that being Arab/Palestinian erases human rights. Similarly, the IDF’s refusal to honor High Court decisions as constitutional law has erroded the Court itself. The occupation is influencing civil and political possibility in Israel itself.

      Reply to Comment
    3. sh

      “there is a need to encourage a civic political discourse at the expense of national politics: a discourse based on civil rights and the creation of a secular political system that truly represents all citizens.”

      That is exactly why I could no longer bring myself to vote for what calls itself the Zionist left. Either you’ll do everything possible to achieve peace – and that begins with achieving peace and equality among all citizens of this country irrespective of religion or race – or you’re not serious about peace at all.

      Reply to Comment
    4. metta2uall

      If they feel alienated by the liberal Left or the hawkish Right, why don’t most of the Arabs/Palestinians vote for the Israeli-Arab parties instead?

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        Because they don’t trust them.
        Arabs are not as silly and naive as Jews to believe that parties like Balad or Hadash care about their voter.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Great Article!

      I wondered to ask though whether the statement regarding the Arab population having lost faith in the political system is completely accurate given that faith may not have ever been placed with the Israeli political system to begin with. If we consider the history and continued disenfranchisement of Palestinian citizens of Israel it is prudent to postulate a different theory which follows the trend of Arab voters in Israel ever since they have been able to vote.

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        > If we consider the history and continued disenfranchisement of Palestinian citizens of Israel

        There is no “Palestinian” citizens of Israel.

        One could be either Palestinian Arab or Israeli Arab, not Palestinian Israeli Arab.

        Reply to Comment
        • Palestinian

          And who are you to decide for them ? If a Palestinian holds the Israeli citizenship,it doesnt make him/her less Palestinian.Haneen is Palestinian ,Barakeh is Palestinian and Tibi is Palestinian,whether you like it or not .

          Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            Who am I is of little importance.

            What matters is that Palestinian Arabs have to right to steal that name and pretend that they are the only Palestinians.

            Haneen is Arab, Barakeh is Arab and Tibi is Arab, whether you like it or not.

            Reply to Comment
          • Palestinian

            Who you are is of no importance to us .You cant steal whats already yours,they are Palestinians who werent expelled or massacred by the European Zionist terrorist gangs.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            They are Israeli Arabs. It’s a fact no matter how hard you try to invent a new ethnicity.

            If they want to become Palestinian Arabs all they have to do is change their nationality and residence.

            Reply to Comment
          • Palestinian

            The Palestinian nationality isnt an ethnicity ,I cant believe you passed 8th grade !

            Haneen identifies herself as a Palestinian,she is the daughter of two Palestinian parents .The fact that her homeland was “donated” to thieves doesnt de-Palestinize her.The more you deny them their Palestinian identity the more they hold onto it.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            Is there a way to determine whether a certain Arab from Golan Heights is Lebanese, Syrian, Palestinian, Jordanian or Israeli?

            Reply to Comment
          • Dany

            Dude, repeating nonsense won’t make it any more credible.

            Reply to Comment