By Yoseph Haddad
We are on the verge of Israel’s fourth round of elections in less than two years, but unlike previously, this time, the stars of the show are Arab Israelis.
The same people who have been blamed for every wrongdoing are suddenly being courted by right-wing parties. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the Arab cities of Tira and Umm al-Fahm, and spoke about the possibility of Likud’s first-ever Arab minister.
New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar was interviewed by the Arab Panet website, and fellow party member MK Yoaz Hendel released a video in Arabic. Yamina established election headquarters in the Arab sector, and MK Ayelet Shaked announced that the party sees a potential base among Arab voters.
All of this happened in one week.
Arab Israelis want to be involved in the national decision-making process. This was reflected during the September 2020 elections, when 64.8 percent of Arab voters cast their ballots. This is also what motivated the Joint Arab List — an alliance of Arab, or mostly Arab, parties Balad, Ra’am-Ta’al and Hadash — to recommend a Jewish candidate for the position of prime minister for the first time.
But after the Joint Arab List received 15 seats in the Knesset and again found itself on the sidelines, the Arab public felt that nothing had truly changed. What difference does getting 15 seats make if the result is the same?
According to a recent poll, 45.4 percent of Arab Israelis believe that the Joint Arab List has not performed well over the past year. As a result, the party has lost a third of its voters, more than 150,000 people, in addition to tens of thousands of others who are currently looking for other political options.
The Arab public is beginning to understand that instead of the Joint Arab List, it needs a partnership. Ra’am leader MK Mansour Abbas was the first to identify this and act accordingly.
All of this makes the Arab electorate the most sought-after in the upcoming elections. But in order to become an alternative for the Arab voter to consider, the parties need Arab candidates, a political campaign in Arabic and plans and solutions for problems in the sector. But most importantly, the parties need to show a genuine, rather than opportunistic, desire for partnership.
What is interesting perceptually is that the new Arab voter is not politically identified. He does not engage in left- and right-wing games. He wants security and economic stability, and demands equal treatment within Israeli society.
There is a real opportunity to advance Arab society, and the question is which political party will become the new and true home for the sector.
Yoseph Haddad is the CEO of Together–Vouch for Each Other, an NGO which aims to bridge between the Arab sector of Israeli society with Israeli society as a whole. This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.