Palestinian Israelis closing ranks ahead of Knesset elections

Palestinian Israelis closing ranks ahead of Knesset elections
5 min read
14 March, 2015
Analysis: Hopes are high that candidates on a joint list of political parties will do well in the upcoming Israeli general election.
Poster in Kfar Menda showing Arab-Israeli members of the joint list [AFP]

The Joint List, which represents Palestinian citizens of Israel, is poised to establish itself as a third force in the Israeli parliament, according to predictions for the Israeli general election scheduled for March 17.

However, politicians in the electoral alliance have ambitions exceeding the 13 seats recent polls indicate the list - a coalition of the National Democratic Assembly (Balad), the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (Hadash), the southern branch of the Islamic Movement, and the Arab Movement for Renewal (Ta'al) - could win.

     A chorus of instigators have called for Arabs to be prevented from participating in the elections.

- Jamal Zahalka

After a period marked by relative apathy, the campaign has started to gain momentum among Palestinian voters.

Supporters and activists are working hard to secure votes for the Joint List. They have held rallies, organised door-to-door visits, and enlisted various conventional and social media channels. However, they are concerned because they say there is a large segment of the electorate that remains indifferent about the elections.

Over the past few days, the Joint List has been targeted by Zionist parties with some describing it as "Daesh-like", referring to the radical Islamic State group (IS). However, this has only made candidates and activists in the Joint List more determined to rally voters in the Palestinian territories occupied in 1948. Their goal is to increase turnout to 70 percent and win at least 15 seats in the next Knesset.

In this climate, Member of the Knesset (MK) Jamal Zahalka told al-Araby al-Jadeed: "The Joint List has imposed itself as a central political force, which has started to worry the racists."

Zahalka ointed to comments by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who has said that if enough Palestinians vote for the list it would pose a grave danger to the state.

Zahalka also cited the recent statements made by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman when he called for "Arab dissidents" to be beheaded. Similar incitements were also made by the Jewish Home party and the extremist Israeli politician Baruch Marzel.

"A chorus of other instigators have called for Arabs to be prevented from participating in the elections,” Zahalka said.

Zahalka stressed that the Joint List had been formed in response to "a broad popular desire". Over 80 percent of Palestinian voters who turn out will vote for it, he estimated. Hence the focus on increasing turnout:

"The higher the turnout the higher our representation will be. We are working and hoping that the turnout will be over 70 percent, which means we'll have 15 MKs."

However, the parliamentarian did not conceal his concerns about what he called a lack of competition in the elections, an issue that could reinforce apathy. The push to get the vote out will be intensified in the last few days before the elections to encourage people to vote.

"Between 5 and 10 percent of our people in the interior [i.e. Israel proper] boycotted the elections for ideological reasons. The rest who do not vote do so because of apathy”, he explained.

Politicians are esepecially keen on this segment because they see a historical opportunity to cause a qualitative shift in their political and national work, and to unite efforts against Israeli racism, Zahalka said.

Relying on election day momentum

Al-Araby al-Jadeed also spoke to MK Massoud Ghanayem. He said he was hopeful Arab voters would rally behind the Joint List on election day, with hundreds of thousands of votes cast for its candidates.

"The overall situation is good. We have high hopes regarding election day, and we believe people have responded well in the last two weeks by showing interest in the Joint List."

However, he said to win 15 seats, much effort needed to be exerted in the remaining few days before the election.

"Voting in these elections is extremely important. Changing the political game in Israel is in our hands, us Arabs. The more votes we get, the less odds Netanyahu will have to form a government, and the higher odds are that we would be able to prevent small fascist parties like those of Lieberman and Marzel from entering the Knesset."

A battle for every vote

     There is more work to be done to get people to cast their votes.

Walid Taha, from Kabul, small town 14 kilometres southeast of Acre in northern Israel, said the battle is being fought for every vote.

Taha was optimistic and said there is a marked increase among Palestinian Israelis' interest in the election. He cited the sentiments he said he experienced first hand during electoral visits and campaigns he participated in on behalf of the Joint List. Nevertheless, he stressed there was more work to be done to get people to cast their votes.

On a different note, he said the Joint List has had a positive impact on social relations among people, with Palestinian Israelis acting more as a unified ethnic group.

"We have overcome partisan and family differences, and taken advantage of the absence of partisan competition to unify our efforts against Zionist parties."

Akram Farah, another activist from Kafr Yasif, an Arab town in northern Israel, told al-Araby al-Jadeedi: "The majority of forces in the town have worked to support the Joint List from the first moment, because it will benefit all segments of the Arab Palestinian community in the interior."

 said activists were working on increasing turnout in the town from 66 percent in the last election to 77 percent this time. On election day, "we will even be ready to transport people from their homes to the polling stations and take them back if needed", he added.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.