The Arab Vote

The upcoming Arab vote will be an indication of their attitude toward the State of Israel, and it will affect how Israel’s Jewish citizens perceive their Arab neighbors.


By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on November 26, 2002.)

How are Israel’s Arab citizens going to vote in the coming elections? This time, like Israel’s Jewish citizens, they will cast their ballots for the party of their choice, rather than splitting their vote between their preferred candidate for prime minister and their party preference, as they did in the previous election to the Knesset.

Based on current polling data that predict a great victory for the Likud, to be accompanied by a slide for Labor, the Arab vote is not likely to significantly affect the final election results. But that does not mean that it does not matter how they are going to vote. The upcoming Arab vote will be an indication of their attitude toward the State of Israel, and it will affect how Israel’s Jewish citizens perceive their Arab neighbors.

Tis perception is a key parameter impacting on the justified quest of Israel’s Arab citizens for equality and advancement in Israeli society.

In recent elections, Israel’s Arab citizens have increasingly voted for radical Arab candidates – Hadash, the ex-Communist party; the Islamic Movement; Azmi Bishara; and Ahmed Tibi, former advisor to Yasser Arafat. These MKs have engaged in vicious attacks against the State of Israel and have voiced support for groups that have engaged in acts of violence and terror against Israel. If their views reflect the opinions of their constituents, then they, too, sympathize with Israel’s enemies and regard the country as a “racist undemocratic state, practicing a policy of apartheid toward its Arab citizens”.

If it was the wish of Israel’s Arab citizens to use their electoral franchise in order to attain economic advancement and greater equality in Israel’s society, there is no doubt that the MKs elected by them have not advanced their cause. Quite the contrary: Their flood of vitriolic attacks against Israel and their constantly-voiced support for Israel’s enemies have tended to discourage many of Israel’s Jewish citizens from supporting the cause of Arab advancement and equality in Israel, viewing their Arab neighbors as essentially hostile to the State of Israel.

As long as this is the prevailing view, it is not very likely that future governments will pluck up the courage to take the measures necessary to advance the interests of Israel’s Arab community.

There is serious doubt about whether the positions taken by most of the Arab MKs truly reflect the views of the majority of Israel’s Arab citizens. If this is the case, these MKs have actually been misrepresenting many of their constituents, who may have voted for them by default, in the absence of Arab parties presenting more constructive positions toward Israel, while lacking confidence in the dedication of the non-Arab parties to the cause of Arab advancement and equality.

Is there an inkling of recognition among the Israeli Arab community that their representatives in the Knesset have actually failed them? The upcoming election may provide the answer to that question.

The voting of Israel’s Druze community has differed sharply from that of the Arab electorate in recent years. Clearly demonstrating the Druze community’s refusal to support the positions hostile to Israel advocated by most Arab MKs, members of the Druze community overwhelmingly voted for non-Arab parties – Labor, Likud and Meretz – with substantial growth in support for the Likud in recent years. No doubt that service in the Israel Defense Forces by their young men has led to a high degree of identification with the State of Israel and a feeling of substantial integration into Israeli society. Clearly, radical Arab MKs will do little to advance their welfare.

There are some indications of a similar tendency among the Bedouin population, although certainly not to the same extent as among the Druze. Israel’s non-Arab parties have yet to prove to the Bedouin that they are serious about tackling the very difficult and distressing problems facing the Bedouin population.

As for the bulk of Israel’s Arab voters, the upcoming elections will provide an opportunity to register their disappointment with the radical Arab parties, while the next government may have an opportunity to demonstrate its dedication to the advancement of Israel’s Arab citizens.

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