Recent pressure exerted by Arab leaders on Israeli Arabs to participate in the national elections may have had some success. Voting rates in the largest Arab city in Israel apparently picked up in the final hours before polls closed. But other reporters in the field suggested that nationwide, turnout in the Arab community would likely prove unremarkable.
Israel’s Central Elections Committee does not release voter turnout information according to social sector until all the votes are tallied, but Haaretz reported shortly after 7 p.m. Tuesday that voter turnout in Nazareth had reached 44%, just 10% lower than the general turnout rate across Israel at that hour.
Other Hebrew media reports, by contrast, indicated no significant rise in turnout, and some predicted that the Balad party, which won 3 seats in 2009, might struggle to clear the Knesset threshold this time.
Recent polls published in local media indicated that less than 50% of Israel’s Arab citizens intended to cast their ballots, the lowest turnout since 2001, when Israel’s Arabs largely boycotted the elections in protest at Israeli government policies during the Second Intifada.
By 8 p.m., the national voter turnout was 63.7%, 4% higher than the turnout in the previous elections of 2009.
On Sunday, the Arab League issued a statement calling on Israeli Arabs to flock to polling booths and prevent an “ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians by a right-wing Israeli government. The former Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabah, also urged Arabs to vote.
Hani Salman, who told The Times of Israel in November that he planned to boycott the elections, said the rise of the Israeli right caused him to change his mind.
“I was scared,” Salman said on Tuesday, explaining that as a lawyer he sees how the policies of the right affect government bureaucracies such as social security and the internal ministry, which have direct bearing on the lives of Israeli Arabs.
“There is no other agenda. What do those who propose boycotting actually think will happen?”
Salman said that the decision to take part in the elections was shared by many of his friends in the village of Beit Safafa, in south Jerusalem.
“I was seriously considering voting for Naftali Bennett to embarrass Israel, but then changed my mind,” Salman said.