'Our campaign was asleep, weak, limping'

Ahmad Tibi thanks ‘magician’ Netanyahu for driving up Arab vote

Arab Israeli MK cites PM’s attempts to suppress the Arab vote for helping rouse voters: ‘Suddenly the Arabs rushed to the polls in droves’

Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi seen at a court hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem asking to disqualify the Joint List  from running in the September elections, August 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi seen at a court hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem asking to disqualify the Joint List from running in the September elections, August 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi on Wednesday dryly thanked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for galvanizing the Arab vote, linking the higher than usual turnout to the prime minister’s attempts to suppress the minority vote and demonize them.

“Our campaign was asleep, weak, limping, just two weeks ago,” Tibi told Channel 12 news. “Then a week ago, someone, a magician, set off alarm clocks at the entrances to every Arab town. That was Benjamin Netanyahu. That was the cameras bill,” he said referring to an unsuccessful bid by Netanyahu to try rush through a law that would allow Likud to place cameras in polling stations.

“Suddenly the Arabs rushed to the polls in droves,” he said echoing Netanyahu’s infamous warning from the 2015 elections.

Voter turnout among Arab Israelis rose significantly on Tuesday as compared to the last national elections on April 9.

According to Haaretz, approximately 60 percent of Arab voters came out to the polls, despite what many in Israel saw as various voter suppression efforts by Netanyahu, his ruling Likud Party and right-wing activists. In April, Arab turnout hit a record low of 49.2%.

Arab Israelis votes during Israel’s parliamentary election at a polling station in Kafr Manda near Haifa on September 17, 2019. (Photo by Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

Tibi’s comments echoed those of Joint List campaign manager Aaed Kayal, who told The Times of Israel that Netanyahu’s statements had motivated Arab Israelis to vote in high numbers.

“They made people want to go to vote,” he said. “While he thought that making those remarks convinced more of his supporters to vote, they actually helped us and encouraged our voters to go to the polls.”

Earlier this week, visitors to Netanyahu’s official Facebook page were greeted by an automatic message sent by a chatbot warning of a “secular left-wing weak government that relies on Arabs who want to destroy us all — women, children and men.”

Netanyahu has made repeated allegations of widespread voter fraud, claiming that Tuesday’s election would be “stolen” from him because of a lack of enforcement against “rampant” voter fraud in Arab communities. However, the evidence Netanyahu has presented proving such fraud has been limited at best, with the Central Elections Committee saying it has not established any significant cases.

In his interview, Tibi also weighed in on the possibility of Joint List head Ayman Odeh becoming opposition leader if Likud and Blue and White form a unity government, saying that it was highly unlikely that the other, Jewish, parties in the opposition would recommend to the Knesset speaker that Odeh assume the role.

MK Ayman Odeh, leader of Joint List alliance, a mainly Arab Israeli Party, casts his ballot accompanied by his family during Israel’s parliamentary election at a polling station in Haifa on September 17, 2019. (Ahmad GHARABLI/AFP)

He noted that while Odeh should become opposition head, as leader of the biggest party, other opposition MKs could — and likely would — vote to put someone else in the position, which the law allows them to do.

According to near final tallies, the Joint List, a coalition of the four largest Arab-majority parties, is projected to win 12 seats, making it the third-largest party in the Knesset overall and the biggest in the prospective opposition. That would mean, should other opposition parties not object, that Odeh would automatically become the opposition head.

Speaking with reporters on Wednesday morning, Odeh said he “aspires” to the position so that he can leverage his influence to repeal the controversial Nation-State law passed during the last Knesset. Many Arab Israelis feel that the law, which declares Israel to be the nation-state of the Jews but does not specify equality for all citizens, to be discriminatory and racist. Supporters of the law note that equality is provided for in other existing legislation.

Odeh noted that the opposition head gets to meet with visiting foreign dignitaries and said he would use this platform to inform them about the law. As opposition head, Odeh would also receive regular security briefings from the defense establishment and a security detail from the Shin Bet security agency.

Tibi, in the interview, said his party has no interest in receiving security briefings, noting that he would rather be given the chairmanship of the Knesset’s powerful Finance Committee.

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