Arab Voting Becomes Stick to Beat Israel

Is it any wonder that Israel is perceived as a racist, apartheid and non-democratic state when articles such as Ben Lynfield’s latest appear in The Scotsman? Under the dubious sounding headline “Democracy fears as Arabs set to boycott Israeli poll,” according to Lynfield:

Most of Israel’s Arab citizens are poised to boycott next month’s parliamentary election, which could fuel tough questions about how democratic and representative the Jewish state is.

The feeling of alienation among the Arab minority was intensified yesterday after the Central Elections Committee – at the impetus of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party – voted to ban the candidacy of legislator Hanin Zoabi from the Arab nationalist Balad party.

In an article that mainly blames Israel for an Arab voting malaise, it is only in the penultimate paragraph that Lynfield concedes that the failure of the Arab parties themselves to unite around common issues is also responsible for the situation. But Lynfield failed to dig very deep at all, leaving out some vital context to the story.

  • There are a plethora of special interest and sectoral parties in the Israeli political system. Yet, the radical left Hadash party is a mixed Arab-Jewish one while a significant proportion of the mainstream and Zionist Labor Party’s membership are Israeli Arabs. In addition to Labor, there are Arab MK’s in Kadima, Likud and even Yisrael Beitenu. Lynfield fails to account for the fact that large numbers of Israeli Arab voters do not vote solely for Arab parties.
  • Lynfield fails to expand on the disillusionment with the Arab parties, which have often preferred to concentrate on representing Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza ahead of their own constituents within Israel itself. This is partially why no Israeli coalition in history has felt comfortable with giving these Arab parties a seat in government (although Israeli Arabs have held and continue to hold high positions in the political, legal and diplomatic fields).
  • Regarding the banning of Hanin Zoabi, Lynfield fails to mention that, based on previous form, Israel’s supreme court will most likely reinstate Zoabi. The Central Elections Committee also voted down proposals to ban some Arab parties from running.

Overall, however, Lynfield paints a low Arab turnout in an election as a threat to Israeli democracy. The decision to boycott a free and fair election is ultimately a political decision taken by those Arabs who prefer to stay at home rather than exercise their rights at the ballot box. Indeed, in discussion with an Arab colleague recently, we remarked on the potential voting power of Israeli Arabs who make up some 20 percent of the country’s citizens – an enormously influential voting bloc if those Arabs decided to exercise that power.

While we have heard of neighboring states where an opposition or minority boycotts an election because it is neither free nor fair, this is not the case in Israel where minority rights are protected under the law. That Israeli Arabs are not a dominant force in determining Israeli government policies is down to one overriding factor – democracy itself.

Irish Times joins in

The Irish Times also reports on the barring of Haneen Zoabi from running for Knesset, failing to mention the likelihood that Zoabi will be reinstated by the Israeli Supreme Court.

Please send your considered comments to The Scotsman – and the Irish Times –