The Joint List campaign on Wednesday said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fiery rhetoric against Arab voters backfired wildly, driving up turnout considerably after the Arab-majority alliance used the premier’s anti-Arab statements to whip up political support.
“[Netanyahu’s] incitement boomeranged,” campaign manager Aaed Kayal, 39, told The Times of Israel in a phone call.
“We used it against him. We showed people what he was saying and explained that he doesn’t want them to vote,” he stated, contending that Netanyahu’s statements “stirred up the emotions” of many Arab Israelis and convinced them to go to the polling stations to vote.
The Joint List, a coalition of the four largest Arab-majority parties, according to near-final results, is poised to garner 12 seats in the Knesset and become the third-largest party in the parliament. The party received 13 Knesset seats in 2015, but dropped to 10 when it ran on separate lists earlier this year.
If the Joint List is confirmed to have won 12 seats, it will have exceeded the projections of most Israeli TV polls that predicted it would receive 10 or 11 of the Knesset’s 120 seats in the days leading up the elections.
Turnout in the Arab sector on Tuesday is estimated at some 60%, about 20% higher than in April’s election, when the same parties, running on two separate tickets, managed to obtain 10 seats between them.
Throughout his campaign and on Tuesday, Netanyahu claimed that the Blue and White party planned to form a coalition with the support of the Joint List, and declared that the alliance of Arab-majority factions should not be involved in government decision-making.
He also contended many times on election day that Arab Israelis were turning out to vote in high numbers, in an attempt to encourage his right-wing supporters to head to the polls.
Netanyahu recently tried and failed to push a bill through the Knesset to allow party observers to bring cameras into polling stations to prevent what his Likud party alleged was rampant voter fraud in Arab communities. Those who opposed the bill, he said, were “stealing the elections.” In April, Likud observers brought hidden bodycams into 1,200 polling stations in Arab areas; the Central Elections Committee barred it from repeating this on Tuesday.
Netanyahu’s Facebook chatbot stated last week that Arabs “want to destroy us all – women, children and men.” Facebook temporarily suspended the chatbot. Netanyahu later denied he wrote the statement on his Facebook page, blaming it on a campaign staffer.
Kayal also attributed the boost in Arab support to Joint List leader Ayman Odeh’s statement in late August that suggested he is ready to become a member of a center-left governing coalition.
“His statement was a turning point in the campaign,” Kayal argued. “It demonstrated to voters that we stand behind our slogans about increasing our influence on decision-making and improving our status in society.”
In an interview published with Yedioth Ahronoth in August, Odeh said he was willing to join a center-left coalition but outlined numerous conditions including a revival of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the establishment of a new Arab city, an end to the demolition of Palestinian homes in the West Bank and other measures.
In a tweet on the same day the newspaper ran the interview, Odeh added another condition — Israel ending its military rule over the Palestinians – which did not appear in the article.
A number of Joint List candidates, however, adamantly opposed Odeh’s statement and vowed they would not sit in a governing coalition.
Kayal said that in the days following Odeh’s remark, the Joint List’s internal polls showed a sharp increase in support for its slate.
“Our research showed a 6%-7% increase in support for the Joint List among Arab citizens who had indicated they intend to vote,” he said, adding that it encouraged a number of Arab Israelis, who originally intended to vote for the left-wing Meretz party, to cast their ballots for the Joint List.
“It created a buzz on the street,” he added. “It became a major topic of discussion.”
A poll published last week found that 49% of Arab Israelis, who had intended to vote on election day, would support an Arab party entering the government “under the right conditions.” It did not specify what “the right conditions” would entail.
Kayal added that a strong social media presence also helped the Joint List convince Arab Israeli voters to support it.
“We made many efforts into putting out posts that speak to the Arab public,” he said, adding that the posts focused on “practical and achievable messages.”
According to a Joint List spokesman, Odeh spoke to Blue and White leader Benny Gantz overnight Tuesday-Wednesday and they agreed to meet.
Odeh told reporters on Wednesday that he looked forward to being the leader of the opposition, which possibly could happen if a unity government is formed.
“It is an interesting position, unsurpassed for the Arab population — it has a lot of influence,” he said.