Arab Israelis largely unimpressed by Netanyahu’s efforts to woo them — poll

But Israel Democracy Institute survey finds that 25% of Arabs think their community should cooperate with the premier

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) with Muhammad Abd al-Wahhab Jabarin, the millionth Israeli to get a COVID-19 vaccine, and medical staff in Umm al-Fahm, January 1, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) with Muhammad Abd al-Wahhab Jabarin, the millionth Israeli to get a COVID-19 vaccine, and medical staff in Umm al-Fahm, January 1, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)

While a large majority of Israelis view Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to forge ties with the Arab Israeli public as insincere, fully one-quarter of Arabs think they should nevertheless cooperate with the prime minister, a survey released Sunday found.

Netanyahu has publicly declared he hopes to win votes from the Arab community in the March elections and has made a number of high-profile visits to Arab towns in Israel in addition to other gestures aimed at wooing the community.

The Israel Democracy Institute poll found that Jewish Israelis take the strategy even less seriously than do Arab Israelis, with 70 percent not believing it’s sincere, compared to 66% of Arabs.

Nevertheless, 25% of Arab Israelis and 42% of Jewish Israelis think the Arab leadership should cooperate with the prime minister.

The willingness among some in the Arab community to work with Netanyahu comes amid lackluster support for Arab politicians. According to the poll, only 23% of respondents rated the Arab-majority Joint List party’s performance as good or excellent, compared to 38% who rated its performance as not good or poor. That sentiment is strongest among the young Arab public.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces a new plan to fight crime in Arab Israeli communities on February 3, 2021 (screenshot: YouTube)

Only 42% of Arab Israelis are sure or moderately sure which party they will vote for. Fifteen percent of Arab interviewees said they would not vote at all, compared to 3% of the Jewish respondents.

The January Israeli Voice Index was compiled by the Viterbi Family Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research of the Israel Democracy Institute. The survey was conducted on the internet and by telephone, with 605 men and women interviewed in Hebrew and 300 interviewed in Arabic. The margin of error was 3.32%, at a confidence level of 95%.

After warning that large Arab turnout could cost him his premiership in 2015 and more recently removing the Joint List from the equation entirely to argue that he has the support of the majority of the public, Netanyahu has changed course ahead of the March campaign, seeking to woo Arab voters to support Likud. Analysts are split as to whether he believes the long-neglected minority will actually come out and vote for Likud or whether the premier is seeking to instead lower turnout rates in the sector by dividing its representatives and giving voters the feeling there is little difference between their options.

Last week Netanyahu unveiled a long-awaited plan to combat violence and organized crime in Arab Israeli communities.

“I cannot imagine a future of the State of Israel which contains a Wild West without law and order, with violence, crime and terror. We will overcome it,” Netanyahu said, pledging NIS 100 million ($32 million) to the issue.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, 3rd left, visit a COVID-19 vaccination center in Sderot, southern Israel, January 27, 2021. (Liron Moldovan/POOL)

Arab Israeli politicians and civil society figures immediately slammed the plan as “too little, too late.”

A 2016 government decision to fight organized crime in Arab communities had budgeted NIS 2 billion ($605 million) over four years. Netanyahu said that “a much larger plan” would be passed at a later date, without specifying what would be included or when.

On Friday, Netanyahu announced that he intended to appoint Nail Zoabi, whom he picked Thursday as the first-ever Muslim on the Likud party’s Knesset slate, as a minister in his next government.

Netanyahu said that Zoabi, a school principal, would be appointed “minister for advancing Arab communities” if Likud forms the next coalition.

In previous elections, Netanyahu was accused of racist discrimination  toward the Arab communities, most famously with his remarks made on the day of the 2015 elections, in which he urged Likud voters to go vote because “the Arabs are voting in droves.”

This was widely seen as a racial dog whistle, implying that Arab citizens of Israel were a traitorous fifth column who, when exercising the right to vote, threatened Israeli security. He apologized for the remarks after those elections, and claimed that they had been taken out of context.

Likud is also known for the party’s previous unsubstantiated warnings of electoral fraud in Arab communities and repeated attacks on Arab lawmakers,

At odds with his wooing of the Arab electorate, Netanyahu last week successfully pushed a merger on the far right of the political spectrum, which could smooth a path into the Knesset for the extreme Otzma Yehudit party.

He has also fostered interaction with Mansour Abbas, from the Ra’am party, in recent months — prompting dissent within the Joint List, of which Ra’am was a constituent faction. Ra’am on Thursday broke away from the Joint List and will run separately in March — a shift that will almost certainly reduce already falling support for the Joint List, which won 15 seats in last March’s elections, and could also see Ra’am fail to clear the 3.25% Knesset threshold — developments seen as highly beneficial to Netanyahu’s reelection prospects.

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