Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu launched a new campaign this month aimed at attracting Arab Israeli voters ahead of the November national vote, becoming one of the very few party leaders to do so in this election cycle so far.
But after a similar effort in the previous election produced marginal results, Netanyahu reportedly recognizes that his ability to gain support from Arab supporters is limited.
As a result, the Likud leader is hoping that in the event he once again fails to attract Arab voters, he will at least succeed in convincing them that there is no great difference between him and the other candidates for prime minister — Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid and National Unity leader Benny Gantz — and thus no great imperative in turning out to vote against him, according to an unsourced Channel 12 report on Friday.
The network cited a recent survey from the Statnet polling firm, which specializes in surveying Israel’s Arab minority, that found 75% of Arab Israelis are not concerned by his potential return to power. With that in mind, the former prime minister is hoping that Arab voters will instead prefer to stay at home on the November 1 election day in what many analysts believe would help boost Netanyahu and his hard-right, religious bloc, Channel 12 said.
As part of the new campaign, Netanyahu has launched Arabic-language accounts on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok featuring translated campaign videos over the past week. Potential voters receive numerous SMS messages each week encouraging them to join the various pages, the TV report said.
He has also released a campaign ad specifically targeting Arab voters.
“This is an opportunity to begin a new era for us all. A new era in relations between Jews and Arabs and with the Arab citizens of Israel,” he can be heard saying in the ad.
فقط الليكود يستطيع إقامة حكومة مستقرة لأربعة سنوات مزدهرة. pic.twitter.com/ZYhK5bagpH
— بنيامين نتنياهو (@netanyahu_ar) September 4, 2022
The 2021 election saw Netanyahu making similar efforts, centering around the nickname he claimed to receive from his Arab supporters, “Abu Yair.”
He zipped between Arab towns, touted his government’s coronavirus vaccination campaign, advanced a plan to combat crime in Arab cities and towns, and heralded what he called the opportunity for a “new era” for Jewish-Arab relations in Israel.
The effort reaped some rewards, with support for Netanyahu’s Likud multiplying in Arab communities and vote numbers often four, five, and even eight times higher than in the March 2020 election.
But it also amounted to very little in actual numbers — both a result of low turnout among the Arab public and of the fact that support for Likud, even multiplied, remains limited in these communities.
Netanyahu had claimed on the campaign that Arab voters could net him 2-3 Knesset seats, but the Arab votes he received on the previous election day did not end up amounting to even one seat.
Turnout in the entire Arab community was historically low — at just 44.6%. According to a poll published last month by the Kan public broadcaster, that figure is slated to drop even further come November.
An opinion poll published by the Kan public broadcaster last month predicted the lowest-ever turnout among Arab Israelis in the November 1 national election, potentially causing Arab representation in the Knesset to dwindle and handing Netanyahu a parliamentary majority.
The survey — conducted by Yousef Makladeh’s Statnet in conjunction with the Arabic-language public network Makan 33 — predicted that Arab turnout in the upcoming vote will be 39 percent, the lowest in the country’s history.
The poll, however, included answers from just 200 Arab-Israeli respondents, and neither Kan nor Makan provided a margin of error for the survey.
Before the poor showing in 2021, Arab turnout peaked at 64.8%, giving the majority-Arab Joint List 15 seats in the 120-member Knesset in 2020.
At the time, the Joint List was made up of all four major majority-Arab parties. Since that election, the Islamist Ra’am faction broke away from the merger to run on its own. While it managed to cross the electoral threshold and make it into the next Knesset, becoming the first-ever independent Arab party to join a government coalition, turnout appeared to suffer as a result. Polls indicate that the continued split of the Arab parties will produce a similar result moving forward as well.
The latest gestures from Netanyahu appear to contradict the campaign style that several Likud lawmakers have said they plan to run this time around.
“The Arabs are taking over the country. We see it every day. They abuse Jews. They do what they want. They go out to violent demonstrations that sometimes lead to lynchings. They trample on Israeli flags,” MK Miki Zohar charged in May. “This will be the hot topic in the elections and the public will be with us.”
This would not have been the first time Likud has deployed anti-Arab sentiment in order to woo votes. On election day in 2015, Netanyahu infamously said, “The rule of the right is in danger. Arab voters are coming in droves to the ballot boxes.”
Netanyahu frequently attacks the government for its inclusion of Ra’am despite the widely reported negotiations he had held with its leader Mansour Abbas to enter a potential Likud-led coalition after the April 2020 election.
Ahead of the September 2019 election, Netanyahu launched an entire campaign based on the unproven claim that Arab Israelis were harvesting ballots in order to steal the election from him. He sought to have cameras installed at Arab polling stations in what critics said amounted to voter intimidation.
Netanyahu’s messaging is completely different in his latest campaign.
“The peace deals with the Arab countries that I signed have already brought and will continue to bring more investment and cooperation that brings Jews and Arabs closer to one another,” Netanyahu can be heard saying in the Arabic-translated ad Likud released earlier this week. “If Jews and Arabs can dance together in the streets of Dubai, they can also dance together here as well in the state of Israel.”
“I know there is a lot to do. I am personally committed to ensuring the personal safety of every single one of you,” Netanyahu adds, acknowledging the long-unaddressed problem of crime in Arab communities, a major issue.
Israel’s Arab communities are gripped by an unrelenting crime wave that has swept into Arab-majority and mixed Jewish-Arab cities and towns over the past few years.
Last week, a mother and one of her 14-year-old twin daughters were shot dead in the central city of Lod and the surviving teen was injured and faces threats to her life.
The murder came days after journalist Nidal Agbaria was killed in the northern Arab city of Umm al-Fahm.
According to the Abraham Initiatives, a group campaigning against violence in the Arab community, at least 75 Arabs have been killed in violent crimes in Israel so far this year, 71 of whom were citizens of the country.
Nine of the victims this year were women, and 64 were killed in shootings.