The Arab Public’s Votes for the 25th Knesset: Trend Analysis and Future Prospects
By Dr. Michael Milshtein | November, 2022
The elections for the 25th Knesset are regarded, and rightfully so, as one of the most important electoral campaigns in Israeli history. These elections seem to have led to the victory that has finally ended the political chaos that Israel has been enduring for the past three and a half years, enabling a government with identity, fundamental principles, and clear political objectives to be formed.
The 2022 elections are of particular importance to the Israeli Arab population. They embody a profound contrast for Arab Israeli citizens: While the Arab vote has had an unprecedented effect on the outcome of the elections, and the nature of the next administration, its manner and scope have contributed to the rise to power of a political bloc perceived by most members of Arab society as adversarial, as well as to the loss of the unprecedented impact made this past year.
The aim of the present paper is to present the voting data of Arab Israeli citizens in the last elections campaign, while describing the political and social trends it reflects. Based on this data, analyses are provided of the possible effects of the emerging political reality on the Arab public, as well as its relations with the state establishment and Jewish society, from which recommendations have been derived for the new government on its policies vis-à-vis Arab society.
- Voter turnout: The voter turnout was 53.2%, an average rate compared to the four election campaigns that have taken place since early 2019, and midway between low points recorded, such as last year’s turnout (44.6% of eligible voters in Arab society had exercised their right), and record voter turnouts, such as the one recorded in the 2020 elections, when the Joint Arab List won an unprecedented 15 seats. Particularly high voter turnouts were recorded in Ra’am (The United Arab List - the party which represents the Islamic movement) strongholds (especially among southern Bedouin communities in the Negev), as well as in several hubs in northern Israel (namely Sakhnin, Kufr Manda, and Deir al-Asad).
Distribution of votes: 84% of all Arab citizens voted for Arab parties, which follows an emerging trend in recent years showing a decline in votes for Zionist parties. The reason behind this trend, inter alia, is growing disappointment in Arab society with Zionist parties’ unwillingness to open their doors to Arab citizens, and feature them in realistic places on their lists. 32% of Arab citizens voted for Ra’am, 29.4% voted for Hadash-Ta’al (The Democratic Front for Peace and Equality-The Arab Movement for Renewal), and 22.5% voted for Balad (The National Democratic Assembly).
Ra’am: Overall, this party seems to have become only slightly stronger compared to the previous elections (one more seat), probably because some of the Arab citizens were under the impression that its unprecedented integration into the coalition, as well as its ability to present an alternative strategy, had led to some achievements, impacting and addressing the fundamental issues that the Arab public faces. The party’s main strongholds – as in the past – are the Bedouin communities in the south (in some, Ra’am has received 70% of votes); the Bedouin communities in northern Israel; The southern "Triangle" area communities, led by Kufr Qassem, where the Islamic Movement was incepted; as well as some of the mixed cities, primarily Acre and Ramla.
Hadash-Ta’al: This party has lost some of its strength following the disbanding of the Joint Arab List for the establishment and activity of which Hadash, led by MK Ayman Odeh, served as a key driver. The party has shrunk in keeping with Hadash’s traditional impact boundaries – the Nazareth and Haifa metropolitan areas, as well as among the Arab Christian public – alongside several local successes in communities in the Negev and central “Triangle” area (particularly in those whose local candidates featured in a realistic spot on the Hadash-Ta’al list).
Balad: Although this party did not cross the electoral threshold, it has received votes amounting to more than 3 Knesset seats (22.5% of Arab citizens’ votes), thereby contributing to the outcome of the elections. Balad has made a remarkable achievement when it turned into the leading political force, for example, in key mixed cities, especially Lod and Jaffa, where ongoing tension between Jews and Arabs is apparent, as well as in Tira, Baqa al-Gharbia, Kufr Kanna, and Abu Ghosh.
Voting in Druze and Circassian societies: As in the past, most of the votes in both societies were cast for the Zionist parties, led by the National Unity Party, Israel Beitenu, Yesh Atid, Likud, and Meretz. In contrast, the voting rate for Arab parties remains relatively low, even for Ra’am, who strove to gain a foothold among the Druze (support for all Arab parties in most Druze communities is between 0.5 and 2 percent).
Voting for Zionist parties: As mentioned, the decline in Arab Israeli support for Zionist movements continues, and can be seen in Druze society too, where such parties are traditionally dominant. In most towns and cities, support for the Likud Party dropped two- or three-fold; the National Unity Party and Labor Party received very few votes in non-Druze communities; and even Meretz, who previously garnered relatively large support from Arab society, achieved little (in Kufr Qassem, where Minister Issawi Frej lives, the party won 19.5% of votes in the previous elections, and only 5.4% in the recent ones).
Local leaders’ impact: In many towns and cities, the existence of a local candidate affected voting. In Beit Jann, for instance, where Meretz candidate `Ali Salalha lives, his party won 62% of votes; Ahmad Tibi garnered support for Hadash-Ta’al amounting to 63% in Tayibe; in the Negev community of Houra, 40% of votes were also for the same party (and not for Ra’am, as was the case in other Bedouin villages in southern Israel), because Youssef `Atauna, who lives there, featured fifth on the Hadash-Ta’al list; and Doua Hosh-Tatour, number 3 on the Balad list, won her party 36.6% of the votes in her hometown of Reineh in the Galilee.
Insights and policy recommendations
The elections embodied two dramatic changes in the context of Israeli Arab politics. The first is Ra’am becoming the largest Arab party, after many years of dominance by the communist stream led by Hadash. The second is Balad’s “glorious defeat”. To a large extent, the tremendous support for the latter is a manifestation of protest and defiance both against the government and the alternatives proposed by the other Arab parties: The Arab-Jewish partnership offered by Hadash and integration into the regime promoted by Ra’am. Perhaps it is also being championed by way of countering the increased support for right-wing parties among the Jewish population, or rallying round the emphasis placed by Balad’s platform on the national Palestinian issue.
Moreover, the elections have caused a deep rift in Israeli Arab politics, for, while the largest parties are integrated into the parliamentary theater, their impact on it is extremely limited. This is particularly true of Mansour `Abbas, whose entire political existence springs from his decision to enter into the coalition. By contrast, Balad will probably continue to focus its activity on the extra-parliamentary domain, and may join forces with other organizations in this sphere, such as the follow-up committee, in defiance against the official political theater, perhaps even in an attempt to form an alternative to it.
From a strategic viewpoint – Arab society’s relations with the state of Israel and Jewish population, which were tense at the best of times, are now in an extremely sensitive situation. Following the elections, the Arab public is in a state of combined shock, frustration, and anxiety. The (modest) hope of increasing the influence that began to develop this past year was suddenly crushed; the exasperation with the Arab political leaderships is pronounced, as is the anxiety over the future government’s character and prospective actions; and, all the while, the Arab public’s fundamental issues, primarily crime and violence, the younger generation’s distress, and feelings of discrimination and underprivilege, continue to simmer, adding to the general tension.
The future government must understand this charged state of affairs, in which a single spark could ignite an all-encompassing blaze. The May 2021 events were a reminder of the deep tension between the two communities, and, to many Arabs and Jews, that flareup is an “open-ended story” that could redevelop, perhaps even more strongly than before.
On a practical level, the future government would do well – despite the gap between its own fundamental standpoints and those of the Arab parties – to clearly state that it intends to continue addressing all the distresses of the Arab public, primarily combatting crime and violence, cultivating the younger generation, and developing the economy and civil infrastructures in Arab communities, and even expand its relevant steps. While, at the same time, engaging in an ongoing, broad, and direct dialogue with the Arab leaderships and public to identify problems and incorporate the leaders and population in the efforts promoted.
Ignoring this charged reality, or worse, announcing the intention to promote new steps that will limit the Arab public, or reduce state-provided support to it, could be interpreted by Arab Israeli citizens – and particularly the younger generation – as the “shutting” of government and public doors that have started to open to them this past year, thereby creating an acute cascade of expectations that will project negatively on the domestic state of affairs, as well as Israel’s national resilience.
 For a comparison with last year’s election campaign, please see - Michael Milshtein, The Arab Public’s Votes to the 24th Knesset: Analysis of Findings and Trends, IPS website, 6 April, 2021:
Authored by Dr. Michael Milshtein, a senior researcher at the Institute for Policy and Strategy (IPS), Reichman University.
Arab Voting in 25th Knesset elections: Data Segmentation >>
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