Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party will likely reserve a spot on its electoral slate for Nail Zoabi, an Arab school principal from the village of Nein, as part of a push to attract Arab voters.
Netanyahu has publicly declared he hopes to win votes from the Arab community in the coming March elections and last week made a number of high-profile visits to Arab Israeli towns.
Zoabi, who resigned several weeks ago from his educational post, is a supporter of Netanyahu and longtime Likud activist, and his Facebook profile features several pictures from a visit by the premier to his school several years ago.
Zoabi did not confirm or deny that he might run on the Likud slate.
Netanyahu has reserved spots 5, 26, and 30 for his personal picks, though the No.5 place would likely be filled by a high-profile candidate.
Meanwhile, Meretz, the dovish left-wing opposition party, is set to announce that it will reserve a spot on its slate for Ghaida Renawi Zoabi, CEO of the Injaz Center, a non-profit group that aims to increase professionalism in local Arab municipalities, Hebrew media reported.
Zoabi is a common surname among Arab Israelis and many are distant cousins.
Party leader MK Nitzan Horowitz will make the announcement Monday, according to reports. Former MK Issawi Frej, who was an Arab-Israeli lawmaker for Meretz between 2013-2019, will be put in fifth spot on the party slate, one behind Zoabi. Though the party currently only has three MKs, recent prediction polls have given it five seats in the coming election.
Earlier Sunday the Meretz faction agreed to not hold leadership primaries before the election as there were no challengers to Horowitz’s position, Haaretz reported. The decision still needs approval from the party’s central committee.
On Saturday Netanyahu said he hopes Arab Israelis will cast a ballot for him.
“Just as I broke the Palestinian veto on relations with the Arab states, so I am breaking the Arab parties’ veto with the Arab citizens of Israel,” he told the Likud party secretariat, according to Hebrew media reports. He was referring to the four normalization deals Israel has announced with Arab countries in recent months.
“I believe in [Zionist leader Ze’ev] Jabotinsky’s doctrine that all rights need to be given to every citizen in the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said. “We’re reaching out to Arab voters — vote for us.”
The new messaging marks a shift in tone by Netanyahu, whose Likud has campaigned in the past on unfounded claims of electoral fraud in Arab communities. He has repeatedly demonized Arab lawmakers in the Knesset and gained global notoriety for attempting to spur his supporters to go vote by warning them on election day 2015 that “Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves.”
Hoping to break the traditional paradigm in elections that has led to gridlock and paralysis after three consecutive elections, Netanyahu told Channel 13 on Friday that the Arab vote had “huge potential.”
Recent opinion polls have shown Netanyahu’s Likud ahead of its rivals as Israel heads to a new election in March, but without a clear path to forming a coalition, signaling the potential for ongoing political gridlock as the country holds its fourth election in two years.
Elections were called last month after the power-sharing government of Likud and Blue and White failed to agree on a budget by a December 23 deadline. They are set to take place on March 23, 2021.