Thursday, January 22, 2015

Israeli Elections 5: A United Arab Slate is projected to receive 11 Knesset Seats

Ayman Odeh, leader of Hadash and head
of joint Arab party slate

On January 21, 2015 the four Arab parties (Hadash, Balad, Ta’al, and Ra’am) announced that they have formed a common slate. This may boost Arab Israeli participation in the elections.  A +972 magazine poll found that nearly 70% of Arab Israelis may vote for  joint slate, compared to 56% voter participation in 2013 when the Arab parties ran separately.

Here is a brief description of the four Arab parties in the joint list:

Hadash:  Hadash is a Hebrew acronym for The Democratic Front for Peace and Equality. Hadash is a Jewish and Arab socialist grouping established in 1977. It had four seats in the 19th (current) Knesset. The party supports a two-state solution, increases in the minimum wage and benefits and ending privatisation of government companies. The party also promotes cooperation between Jews and Arabs and the rights of women, minorities, and workers.  The joint list will be headed by Hadash's Ayman Odeh, an Arab-Israeli lawyer from Haifa. 

Balad: Balad means nation in Arabic and is also an acronym in Hebrew for the National Democratic Assembly. Established in 1995, Balad is a leftist, anti-Zionist party that promotes Arab nationalism.  Balad had three seats in the 19th Knesset.  The party includes controversial MK Hanin Zoabi who stirred up controversy by joining activists on the Mavi Marmara when this ship attempted to break Israel's naval blockade on the Gaza Strip.  She has prominently participated in demonstrations against the Gaza war in the summer of 2014 (Israeli Operation Protective Edge) and she has called on Palestinians to continue fighting, to besiege Israel, and to refuse to negotiate. She was previously barred from running by the Israeli Central Elections Committee, but his was overturned by the Israeli Supreme Court.  More recently, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (head of Israel Bietenu party) along with the Minister for Security campaigned to oust both Zoabi and Balad from the Knesset. Thus far they have only been successful to impose sanctions on Zoabi--preventing her from addressing the Knesset for a period of six months--but not oust her. She remains on the list in the number 7 position, behind another woman, Aida Slouma-Timan from Hadash in fifth position.

Ta’al and Ra'am:  Ra'am, the united Arab list, and Ta'al (the Arab Movement for Renewal) already formed a joint list for the 2013 elections. They shared four MK's in the 19th Knesset.  

No Arab party has ever been part of a governing coalition in Israel.  Current polling projects these parties to maintain 11 Knesset seats in the upcoming election.  However, as a joint list, it is possible that the Arab parties will have a greater chance of becoming part of a governing coalition. 

Although Israel has a strictly proportional electoral system, with each party receiving representation in the Knesset in accordance with their percentage of the vote,  the combined Arab parties have significantly less representation than the Arab population of Israel -- approximately 20.7 percent--would indicate. Arab party representation in the 19th Knesset was a mere 9 percent (11 seats of 120 seats total). The reasons for this are unclear to me. 

In the upcoming elections, it will be interesting to observe both the voter participation rate of Arab citizens  as well as the success of this joint list. 

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