As Israel heads to the polls today, opposition leader and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is hoping that Arab citizens of the occupation state will head to the polling stations "in droves" to cast their votes for him as a result of his election campaign promises.
It is a far cry from the 2015 General Election when Netanyahu claimed that Arab Israelis were "heading to the polling stations in droves" as if that was a threat to the state. During the latest election campaign, however, he has been making an effort to get Israel's Arab citizens to go out and cast their votes. Hopefully "in droves".
On the eve of the 2021 election, Netanyahu created Arabic-language TikTok and Facebook accounts to address the Arab communities in Israel. In September, he announced that he had created new Arabic-language accounts on Twitter and Instagram. He seemed very keen to get closer to the Arab Israelis as the only Jewish Israeli politician to have Arabic-language accounts on social media.
In this fifth General Election in less than four years, Israeli voters are going to choose whether to bring Likud leader Netanyahu back to the top table as prime minister, despite his prosecution on corruption charges, or keep current Prime Minister Yair Lapid's party in power.
Any party in Israel needs to get at least 3.25 per cent of the votes cast in order to enter the Knesset (parliament). Any one party or parliamentary bloc needs 61 seats out of the 120 in the Knesset in order to form the government.
Most recent polls show that Netanyahu's right-wing bloc still needs at least two or three more certain seats to secure that 61 seat simple majority to bring him back to power. Every vote counts; hence the focus on attracting Arab voters.
Early last month, the Arab MK Aida Touma-Suleiman told the audience during a campaign appearance in Jaffa that the "turnout [of Arab citizens] will decide this battle." Jeff Barak, the former chief editor of the Jerusalem Post, told i24 News English in September that Arab voters are now significant in Israeli elections.
Arab Israelis make up more than 20 per cent of the population in the occupation state, but they have suffered from discrimination ever since Israel was created in 1948. They have
been treated as second-class citizens and have lost their individual rights one by one on an almost year by year basis.
The turnout of Arab voters in Israel has fluctuated from one election to another, depending on the promises made to them by the candidates. In the 2020 election, 64.8 per cent of
Arab voters went to the polls, but that figure fell to 44.6 per cent last year. Early polls suggested that the turnout this time will not exceed 40 per cent, although more recent polls suggest that the Arab turnout might exceed 50 or even 60 per cent. Nevertheless, there is still mistrust and a lack of belief that the promises made by Arab and Jewish candidates alike will be fulfilled.
Netanyahu visited predominantly Arab areas in the north of Israel and sat with Bedouins to drink bitter Arabic coffee; it was a very clear appeal for the Arab vote. However, some
analysts believe that a low Arab turnout will make it easier for Netanyahu's bloc to secure the 61-seat majority that he needs to form the government. "Low Arab turnout means the right wing in Israel is probably doing better," explained Barak.
Lapid disagrees. He has appealed for Arab citizens to vote for the Arab parties if they do not want to vote for him.
In fact, neither Netanyahu nor Lapid are likely to garner the majority of the Arab votes, because neither have done anything to earn them. During the tenures of both prime ministers, Arab Israelis continued to suffer from discrimination. Most Arabs believe that all Jewish Israeli politicians are liars and make false claims of support for the community that evaporate immediately after the polling stations close. The reality seems to be that promises are only turned into action to support Jews in Israel, not Arabs.
Indeed, the latter watched as the previous Netanyahu coalition government, which included an Arab party, turned out to be no different than the governments with no Arab involvement. They also saw the so-called Basic Law being amended under Netanyahu's watch, a move which made them even more inferior within the "Jewish" state.
Just two weeks ago, they saw a Jewish MK brandishing a gun in occupied Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood; he wanted to shoot any Arab throwing a stone at him while he was invading their homes. This happened under Lapid's premiership, but he did nothing about this outrage.
Hence, it is not only Netanyahu who has no credibility and can't be trusted, but also other Israeli leaders and parties. In Israeli politics, electoral promises carry no guarantees when aimed at the Arab voters; right, left and centre politicians and governments are all the same in this respect, even when the coalitions have Arab involvement.
I believe that Netanyahu will form the next government, but it will not be Arab votes which get him to that point. It will be the extreme right-wing Jewish parties and their supporters. The promises he is making to attract the Arab vote have no credibility whatsoever.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.