The curious case of the Arab vote in the Israeli elections

A guest post by AKUS

Jerusalem Post, Jan. 21, 2013.Arab League to Israeli Arabs: Vote to stop the far right‘.

“The Arab League on Sunday called for Israeli Arabs to vote so that they can stop the establishment of a right-wing government “that will promote racist laws and ethnic cleansing.””

The Guardian: Wrong about everything. All the time:

“Silver Blaze”, Arthur Conan Doyle:

Gregory : “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
Holmes: “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
Gregory: “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
Holmes: “That was the curious incident.”

At some point, if not already, someone is going to analyze the Arab vote in the recent Israeli elections once the excitement of playing “build the coalition” subsides.

Israel’s Arab demographic makes up about 20% of the population. If every Arab voter only voted for one or other of the Arab parties, all else being equal (e.g., the same proportion of adults eligible to vote in the Arab sector as in the non-Arab sector) the Arab parties would hold approximately 24 seats in the Knesset. Instead, it appears that they have 8 seats (United Arab list – Ta’al and Balad). Even adding in Hadash, which has a mix of Jewish and Arab communists, they have at most 12 seats.

So how did at least half and probably more than half of Israel’s Arabs vote? That is surely the most curious aspect of the recent election results.

We can rule out the right wing and orthodox Jewish parties.  Apparently, therefore, Israeli Arabs exercised their votes for the center and center-left parties, giving them the 12- 16 “missing seats”. Traditionally, Labor has had strong support in the Arab sector, and this may have helped them retain 15 seats in the new Knesset. One of Labor’s seats will be occupied by a Christian Arab woman, Nadia Hilou, of Jaffa. It is also likely, I would think, that Yesh Atid’s unexpectedly strong showing could be due to Arabs responding to its social and political messages of cooperation and equality.

Until an analysis of the Arab vote is available, and specially the missing Arab vote in the sense of missing from the Arab parties, I suggest it reinforces two major themes of this election.

One is that people in Israel, like every else, vote for their daily interests ahead of grand foreign policy issues. Young Arabs are just as likely to be concerned about their and their children’s futures. Issues like housing, jobs, financial security, and protection from the manic regimes surrounding Israel are as likely to be their top concerns as they are for non-Arab Israelis. In addition, they will be willing to vote for parties that accept them as equals and promise to make the effort to ensure equality is not just written into the laws, as it is, but practiced in daily life. They certainly are underwhelmed by the radical Arabs like Zuabi and Tibi.

The other is that, quite clearly, the Palestinian issue is not one that is the most pressing for a majority of Israel’s Arabs, even if they believe that Yesh Atid and Labor could be more accommodating to the possibility of creating a Palestinian State on the West Bank than the other Jewish parties. Polls have shown that a majority of Israel’s Arabs believe that they are better off in every way than they would be in the countries surrounding Israel. Polls held in towns and villages bordering the Green Line have demonstrated that Israel’s Arab have no desire and no intent to join a putative Palestinian state, should one ever arise on the West Bank. Put quite simply, they know where their bread is buttered, and it is not with the Gazans or West Bankers.

This was the curious incident in the last election – the Arab vote did nothing to reflect what so many treat as Israel’s primary concern – the future of the West Bank.

Thus, while the Guardian and the mainstream media – not to mention the EU and factions within the United States – agonize over the “two state solution”, Israel’s Arabs have made their own views quite plain. Their “missing seats” show that they are Israelis, not Palestinians, they are in Israel to stay, and wish to be part of what we can only hope will be a strengthening main-stream Israeli consensus formed by centrist parties such as Yesh Atid and Labor and a move away from the extremism of the Likud and Habayit Hayehudi.