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Monday, January 21, 2013

Arab League Calls On Israeli Arabs To Vote In Upcoming Election

Source: Haaretz
By Jack Khoury

Statement issued by organization's Palestine division insists that Israel’s radical right intends to pass an entire series of laws that will be inimical to the country’s Arab citizens. 

The battle to get indifferent voters in Israel’s Arab community to cast their ballot on Election Day has even penetrated the headquarters of the Arab League in Cairo.

With timing that is far from coincidental, the Arab League’s Palestine division issued an official statement on Sunday calling on Israeli Arabs to participate en masse in the elections and to vote for the country’s Arab parties in order to prevent the radical right from gaining control of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset.

The statement notes that Israel’s radical right intends to pass an entire series of laws that will be inimical to the country’s Arab citizens: “According to the public opinion polls that have been conducted in Israel, the radical right is expected to obtain a majority [of seats in the Knesset]. The radical right consists of right-wing groups that do not want peace; they refuse to accept the Other and they regard Israeli Arabs as a threat to the country.”

A senior Arab League official who participated in the drafting of the statement said that the call to Israeli Arabs to vote was not a decision made by the League but was rather an initiative of the Palestine division. According to the official, this is not intervention in Israel’s domestic affairs but an attempt to warn of the consequences of the upcoming elections should the Arab community in Israel remain indifferent/

“We are closely monitoring the situation. We are monitoring the daily demolition of [Palestinian] houses in the Negev [in southern Israel]; the growing racism; and the laws that members of Knesset are trying to pass and which represent a serious threat to the civil rights of Israel’s Arab citizens. Furthermore, we hear what [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is saying: He is constantly talking about continuing the construction activity in the settlements and about undermining the position of the Arabs in the country. He is incessantly issuing threats about attacking Iran. That is why we want to see members of Knesset who can try to stop all this. If the Arabs in Israel utilize the opportunity they have to vote in the country’s elections, they can have an influence on the composition of the next Knesset.”

The senior official strongly rejects any idea that the statement was issued in collaboration with Israel’s Arab parties: “None of the parties approached us nor was there any collaboration on their part. This is quite simply an example of legitimate action and this is a legitimate call to the Arab community in Israel to go out and vote; this call is a reflection of our awareness of the reality that exists in Israeli society.”

Although Israel’s Arab parties have welcomed the decision to issue this statement, they express serious doubts as to whether it will have a dramatic effect on Arab voters in the country; on the other hand, they do attach considerable importance to local initiatives to encourage members of Israel’s Arab community to get out and vote. The parties are especially pinning their hopes on the candidates in the local elections in Arab communities.

The three leading Arab parties in Israel – the United Arab List-Ta’al, Hadash and Balad – are making a major effort to support individuals who want to be candidates for the leadership of local councils and the municipalities of Arab towns and cities; as far as these parties are concerned, the national elections are a dress rehearsal for the local elections that will be held in October. In a city like Shfaram, one can palpably feel the bitter conflict between the two candidates – Mayor Nahed Khazem, who backs Hadash, and the leader of the opposition in the municipal council, who identifies with Balad. In Shfaram, the Likud-Beiteinu joint slate is favored by supporters of MK Hamad Amar, who was voted into the outgoing Knesset on the Yisrael Beiteinu ticket.

In other Arab communities such Akhsal, Sakhnin, Arabeh, Dirkhaneh and Ilabun, as well as Nazareth, the preparations for the municipal elections have aroused interest in the national elections as well. In a report published by the Mossawa Center – The Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel for the present election campaign, it emerges that Druze representation in parliament, which reached its highest level so far in the 18th Knesset with six MKs, is expected to drop.

Nevertheless, it is anticipated that the three parties representing Israel’s Arab citizens will maintain their present strength. According to the report, most of the public opinion polls see the potential for a 65-percent voter turnout in Israel’s Arab community; however, it is probable that, in practice, voter turnout will be no more than 50 percent. The degree to which this potential can be effectively tapped will depend on the organizational mechanism that the parties can put into operation on Election Day.

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