The Arab Public's votes to the 24th Knesset: Analysis of findings and trends
Michael Milshtein | April, 2021
Photo: MILNER MOSHE-GPO
The 24th Knesset elections (March 2021) are a historical crossroad in the history of the Israeli Arab public. This event embodies a basic contrast: a substantial drop in voter turnout among Arab citizens on the one hand, and on the other – a peak with regard to Arabs' involvement in Israeli politics, and their effect on it.
Several key findings emerge from an analysis of the voting data in Arab society:
- Arab citizens' voter turnout in the 24th Knesset elections was actually the lowest since Israel's establishment, amounting to 45.6%. In 2001, turnout was lower (18%) – due to the events of October 2000 – however, those elections were for prime minister only, not parliament. The low voter turnout was due to a combination of general fatigue, as this was the fourth election campaign in just two years (this trend was also recorded among the general Israeli population) and disappointment with The Joint List, for, despite its unprecedented strength (15 Knesset seats), it has failed to reach any political achievements, make an impact, or resolve the fundamental issues of the Israeli Arab public.
- The United Arab List's (Ra`am) accomplishment was the chief development in the recent elections, both in terms of the Arab public and Israeli politics in general. It did well in the general Arab population, but its main support hubs are the Bedouin society in southern and northern Israel, the neighborhoods in mixed cities where populations of Bedouin origin live (particularly Juarish in Ramla), and the Southern "Triangle" area, especially Kafr Qasim, birthplace of the Islamic Movement in Israel. Unlike The Joint List, The United Arab List has no stronghold in Christian or Jewish society in Israel due to its religious Islamic identity.
- The Joint List remains the strongest Arab political power in Israel (6 Knesset seats), however, The United Arab List is the largest Arab party in the Knesset (4 Knesset seats), since the former is comprised of three parties, the largest of which – Hadash – won 3 seats. The Joint List's strongholds are the communities in the Northern Triangle, led by the city of Umm al-Fahm, the mixed cities, and the eastern Galilee, particularly the city of Nazareth. In areas densely populated by Christian Arabs, such as Haifa and Nazareth, The Joint List won some 60% of the votes.
- Arabs voted more for Jewish parties than they did in the 2020 elections (17.1% versus 12.4% respectively), but this finding does not constitute a significant breakthrough, for its pattern was similar to that of the previous elections. The Likud Party is the Jewish political force that has garnered the most support from Arab society – about 4.7% of all Arab citizens' votes – but they amounted to just half a seat. Meretz, on the list of which two Arab candidates featured in realistic positions, won 3.3% of the votes in Arab society, whereas the rest of the center, leftwing and rightwing parties had extremely low support percentages in Arab society.
Several fundamental trends are reflected by the analysis of the findings:
- The recent elections form a political revolution reflecting profound social and cultural shifts. The main manifestation of it is the rise of The United Arab List – a party that waves the banner of willingness to deeply integrate into the Israeli game of politics, and have an impact on local decision-making. This goal reflects the desire of many in the Arab public to fully integrate into Israeli society, expressing their interest in prioritizing the resolution of everyday civil issues over engaging in political and ideological matters. It is not as if "Israelization has triumphed over Palestinization" among the Israeli Arab public, since it is not a "sum zero game" between the two identity components, but their updated "framing". Thus, Israeli citizens are better able to integrate into Israeli society and politics without having to obscure their identity, or have it creating alienation vis à vis the administration or Jewish society.
- The support given to The United Arab List embodied a combination between identifying with its social and cultural image (conservative and religious), and connecting with the revolutionary political idea the party was advocating. The United Arab List may be described as one that promotes a conservative revolution: a breakthrough in political terms, alongside an uncompromising approach on cultural issues, particularly with regard to the issue of the LGBTQ+, which has become a striking bone of contention in Arab society, and was one of the main reasons why The United Arab List left the Joint List.
- From the political aspect – The United Arab List represents a profound change compared to the Arab public's past conduct. The party reiterates that it does not grant automatic support in any political camp, and siding with one political party or another will be solely derived from whichever choice contributes more to promoting the interests of the Arab public. This approach is an expression of the all-Israeli blurring of boundaries between left and right crossing over into Arab society, as well as The United Arab List's desire to shatter the traditional "identity politics" that tied the Arab public to a certain camp while inhibiting its ability to maneuver and negotiate. Thus, Abbas has achieved the strategic aim pursued by The United Arab List – to be the one to tip the scales in favor of either the rightwing or leftwing.
- The hard blow suffered by The Joint List in these last elections may indicate the end of "old Arab politics", which prefers sitting on the fence to fully integrating into the game of politics (being a coalition member, let along holding government positions), as well as prioritizing political and ideological issues over civil ones, making it difficult to play a significant role in political action-taking or develop a dialogue with the Jewish public.
- As mentioned, no breakthrough was made in these last elections in the Arab public's support of Jewish parties, despite the latter's efforts to win Arab society's vote and develop a dialogue with Arab Israeli citizens. While many of the Jewish leaders were made aware of the shifts in Arab society, namely the desire to focus on resolving civil issues, and deepen their integration into general society, they did not change accordingly, and this gap was reflected by Arab leaders failing to feature in realistic positions on Jewish party lists.
From the Arab public's perspective, the 2021 elections constituted an important, even fateful, test of Jewish society's willingness to accept the Arab vote, and the possibility of developing a fruitful collaboration between the two sectors. Yet another exclusion of the Arab vote, or the failed attempts to establish a coalition, resulting in another round of elections, could have negative implications on the Arab public.
Under such scenarios, the segregation between Arab citizens and the State of Israel could deepen – including particularly low voter turnout in future elections – and their sense of frustration and despair would be heightened. Against such a backdrop, friction could evolve between the Arab public and the government, since there is already tremendous tension in the Arab street due to rising crime and violence, the unstable governance in many areas, and the deep frustration of the younger generation, in part because of the profound tension they feel between modernity and tradition.
Authored by Dr. Michael Milshtein, a senior researcher at the Institute for Policy and Strategy (IPS), Reichman University.
If you wish to receive the weekly brief regularly, please follow the link to register.