Druze lawmaker quits Democratic Camp, says Arabs won’t vote for party

Druze lawmaker quits Democratic Camp, says Arabs won’t vote for party

Ali Salalha says faction not taking him seriously after he brought thousands of votes to Meretz in last election, says Arab voters will not support Ehud Barak

Ali Salalha celebrates after the release Meretz primaries in Tel Aviv, February 14, 2019. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
Ali Salalha celebrates after the release Meretz primaries in Tel Aviv, February 14, 2019. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

A Druze lawmaker resigned from the left-wing Democratic Camp party this week, saying that the faction was not taking him seriously and that the Arab community would not support the party because of its resentment toward former premier Ehud Barak.

Ali Salalha, from the village of Beit Jann, said on Tuesday that he saved the Meretz party in the previous elections in April, and was frustrated with his low placement on the Democratic Camp’s slate, Haaretz reported on Saturday. He said that the Arab votes he brought to Meretz in April pushed the party across the electoral threshold.

The Democratic Camp is a union between the left-wing Meretz party, MK Stav Shaffir, formerly of Labor, and former prime minister Ehud Barak.

The party is expected to win 6-7 seats, and with Salalha in the 20th spot on its slate, he does not realistically have a chance of making it into the 120-member Knesset.

“These people don’t take Ali Salalha seriously,” he said in frustration over his low placement. “All of a sudden you’re giving up on the media star of the last election? On the legendary educator that brought the Druze educational system to first place?”

Salalha is an award-winning educational director in Beit Jann, Haaretz reported.

Meretz chairman Nitzan Horowitz, right, Israel Democratic Party chief Ehud Barak, left, and MK Stav Shaffir hold a press conference announcing their new alliance, the Democratic Camp, ahead of the September 17 elections, in Tel Aviv on July 25, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

He won fifth place on Meretz’s electoral slate in internal elections for the last national vote. The Democratic Camp is headed by Meretz’s Nitzan Horowitz.

Salalha reportedly believes that the Democratic Camp would lose the Arab vote because of the community’s resentment toward Barak. In October 2000 at the start of the Second Intifada, while Barak was prime minister, police killed 13 Arab Israeli protesters. Barak has since apologized and expressed regret for the deaths.

“When Meretz held negotiations with Ehud Barak, they didn’t take me into account,” Salalha was quoted as saying. “Did you all go crazy? I brought you tens of thousands of Druze. Who did the Druze vote for before? For the right. For Likud, for Liberman, for Shas. I brought them with me and you put me at 20th place?”

“We, the Druze, have no problem with Barak. The Arabs do,” Salalha said. “[Arabs] voted for us when I was with Meretz. After Barak landed on us, I hear Arabs saying ‘we’re not going with Barak.’”

Former PM Ehud Barak participates in a Saturday Culture event in Shoham, August 24, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Barak has also been lambasted by political opponents in recent months due to his ties to disgraced US financier Jeffrey Epstein.

Salalha refused to say who he himself would vote for.

The Arab vote has become a hot-button issue for the September 17 elections, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party have sought to rush through legislation before the vote that would allow observers from political parties to bring cameras into polling stations.

The so-called Camera Bill is opposed by the Central Elections Committee and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who warned in a legal opinion Friday that it could play havoc with the voting process. Netanyahu’s political opponents, including Barak, have vehemently opposed the law as well.

During the April 9 elections, Netanyahu’s Likud party equipped some 1,200 polling officials working at ballot stations in Arab population centers with hidden body cameras to prevent what the party claims is rampant fraud in the community.

Likud asserted this week that without fraudulent votes, one of the country’s Arab parties, Ra’am-Balad, would not have passed the minimum threshold of 3.25 percent of the vote for entry into the Knesset, equivalent to four seats in Knesset. It is now warning the same will happen again if cameras at polling stations are not permitted.

The party’s claims are dubious and have not been substantiated by evidence. A senior Likud official speaking to the Haaretz newspaper anonymously said the claims of a stolen election were “merely speculation. This isn’t a scenario anyone thinks has much basis.”

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