A woman casts her vote in the Arab town of Beit Safafa on election day in Israel, March 17, 2015. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Israeli Arabs vote

Voter turnout was higher than usual among Israel’s Arabs, who were spurred by the unification of the three Arab parties into the Joint List. The Joint List will be the third-largest parliamentary bloc in the 20th Knesset.

The 2015 elections to the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) were remarkable in many ways, including the unusually high turnout of Arab-Israeli voters. Polling stations in Arab neighborhoods and towns saw long lines as the unity between the Arab parties breathed new life into the electorate.

The Arab parties in Israel – United Arab List-Ta’al, Balad, and Hadash – banded together to form the Joint List after the Knesset recently passed an electoral reform law, which raised the number of votes required to gain a seat in the Knesset from 2% to 3.25%. At the time, many argued that the law would effectively freeze the Arab parties out of the legislature. However, the opposite appears to be true; instead of 11 representatives, the Arab parties will bring 14 to the Knesset, making them the third-largest parliamentary bloc after Likud and The Zionist Union.

Voter turnout has generally been low among Israeli-Arabs, who were discouraged by the fractiousness between the Arab parties and their lack of influence on government policy. In 2013, for example, voter turnout was 67.7% for Israel overall, but only 56% among Arabs. Although this year’s exact figures are not yet in, a spokesman for the Joint List indicated that 10% of Israeli-Arab registered voters had cast their ballot by 11:30 AM, as compared to only 3% in the previous election.

“Like every Arab citizen of the state today, I’m excited to vote and be part of history and the turning point that will substantially change the lives of Arab citizens and all citizens of the state,” said Joint List head Ayman Odeh as he left his home in Haifa to cast his ballot. “I urge you all to go out and vote this morning, to believe it’s possible for things to be better here — that we, Arabs and Jews, can create a better future for our children with our own hands.”

Israeli-Arabs were also represented on the Central Elections Committee, which was chaired by Justice Salim Jubran, a member of Israel’s Supreme Court. Jubran had aroused ire for refusing to sing Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem, at the ceremony installing him on the Supreme Court, but he was supported in his decision by fellow judge Elyakim Rubinstein and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Interestingly, the Joint List appears to have done poorly among the Arabic-speaking Druze minority. The most popular party in the predominantly Druze localities of Pekiin, Kisra-Sumei Yanouh-Jatt, and Ein al-Asad was Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beitenu. In Daliat al-Karmel and Isfiyya, the Kulanu party took the lead.

By Lauren Calin, United with Israel