Third Elections: Arab Parties and Jewish-Arab discourse

Third Elections: Arab Parties and Jewish-Arab discourse

January 21, 2020

With Israel heading for a third national election in less than a year on March 2, Joint List leaders are setting their sights on increasing their Knesset representation from 13 to 15 seats. “We have disbanded the Knesset ahead of the next achievement: 15 seats for the Joint List,” tweeted Ta’al party leader Ahmad Tibi, and MK Odeh said the aim is now to attain a level of Arab voter turnout that matches Jewish voting rates. The Joint List submitted its slate to the Central Elections Committee on January 17, publicly projecting greater unity and optimism than in either of the past two election cycles. With four women on the slate, including at spots 14 and 15, candidates spoke of encouraging Arab women to vote in order to increase female Arab representation in the Knesset.

The Joint List is also tripling its budget for outreach to Jewish voters following the recent merger of the left-wing parties Labor-Gesher and Meretz. The merger displaced Arab members from realistic positions on their list. MK Esawi Freij, who was 4th on the Meretz list, now holds the 11th slot on the merged list and is therefore unlikely to receive a Knesset seat. "Arabs want to be partners. Not decorations," Freij said, adding that he did not believe that Arab voters would cast ballots for the merged left-wing ticket without an Arab candidate. The merger led to criticism by Arab activists such as Samah Salaime who wrote that it "puts an end to the 'token Arab' era" (Hebrew) and Naif Aby Sweis, a Ramle city council member who wrote that "any Arab who votes for Meretz is a fool (Hebrew). Two smaller Arab parties that campaigned in the previous election announced that they would not run, throwing their support to the Joint List and raising expectations that the slate can attract additional votes.

The Joint List will again run as the union of four parties, two of which will maintain their lists while the other two will hold primaries.

Meanwhile, the leading mainstream opposition party, Kahol Lavan, said it would "rule out any possibility of forming a minority government with the Joint List" in hopes of attracting right-wing voters (Hebrew). In October, Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz met with the leaders of the Joint List for coalition talks, described as “a rare moment” in Israeli politics, which has never witnessed Arab-led parties being openly consulted as part of coalition negotiations.

Last week, Likud filed a petition with the Central Election Committee to disqualify the participation of MK Hiba Yazbek, a member of the nationalistic Balad party located 8th on the Joint List slate, due to past declarations allegedly supporting terrorism. As Israel Beitenu and Blue and White announced they will support the petition, and as the Central Election Committee is staffed with MKs, it appears there will be a majority vote this coming Thursday for her disqualification. It is expected that she will consequently appeal to the Supreme Court, which can, and in the past usually overruled such qualifications. Arab MKs are harshly criticizing Blue and White’s position, stating it is part of “a de-legitimization effort of Arab leadership” and would “make it more difficult” for them to recommend MK Benny Gantz for Prime Minister later on (Hebrew). In April’s elections the Elections Committee disqualified all of Balad party from running, a decision consequently overruled by the Supreme Court.

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