Prime Minister Yair Lapid visited the northern Arab city of Nazareth on Tuesday where he met with Mayor Ali Salem and some 20 other Arab municipal leaders, urging Arab Israelis to vote in next week’s elections for the sake of their own communities.
Calling on Arab society to take “responsibility for its fate,” Lapid said that if Arab Israelis do not vote, “they need to understand that what was given in the past year will be taken from them,” according to a statement from his office.
Lapid was suggesting that pledges by the current government, which includes the Arab Ra’am party, would be reversed if the opposition right-wing religious bloc wins the vote.
“You’re voting for your lives, you’re voting for partnership,” Lapid said. “You are voting on the question of what resources you as heads of authorities will receive in the coming years.”
Arab turnout on election day is predicted to be low, with many despairing of finding a party they are motivated to vote for.
And with the prospect of a razor-thin majority for a winner or potential ongoing deadlock in parliament between Benjamin Netanyahu’s supporters and opposers, the Arab vote could be decisive.
Arab parties currently hold 10 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, while polls have shown that Netanyahu’s bloc is inching past 60 seats. Any seats lost due to Arab voters avoiding the ballot box could help Netanyahu scrape past 61 seats and return to power.
In the final run-up to election day, Lapid and Netanyahu have turned their attention to the Arab vote, with the former seeking to raise turnout, and the latter to suppress it.
In his pitch, Lapid touted falling violent crime levels this year, after a record number of homicides among Arabs in Israel last year.
He said that recent figures presented to a task force dealing with violence in the Arab Israeli community showed there had been a 15% drop in incidents.
“It is not enough, but we’ve started something,” he argued.
Social Equality Minister Meirav Cohen joined Lapid on the visit to Nazareth, the largest Arab city in Israel.
Netanyahu responded by accusing Lapid of trying to “incite” the Arab population against him.
“But the Arab citizens, just like the Jewish residents, know that under us…there wasn’t such a deterioration in personal safety, it was simply better,” Netanyahu said in a video posted to his social media accounts.
Last week Lapid told Arab Israeli media channels that he intends to amend the contentious Nation-State Law if he retains the premiership following November 1’s election.
The 2018 Nation-State Law, which was passed as a “Basic Law” — a type of protected, quasi-constitutional piece of legislation — enshrines Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people.”
Critics argue that the law contravenes the basis of Israel’s legal system, as well as its Declaration of Independence, and solidifies inequality among its citizens.
AFP contributed to this report.