Poll: 25% of Arab Israelis think Netanyahu should be prime minister

Only 32% of eligible voters in minority group are certain they’ll vote in the elections next week, 80.5% of them for the Joint List

Amir Ben-David is a journalist and senior writer at Zman Israel, The Times of Israel's sister Hebrew website. He's also a musician with the Israeli rock group “Avtipus” ("prototype"), a screenwriter and a novelist.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on July 14, 2019. (Ronen Zvulun/POOL/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on July 14, 2019. (Ronen Zvulun/POOL/AFP)

A survey held in recent weeks by the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern Studies found that only 32 percent of Arab Israelis are certain they’ll vote in next week’s elections.

The survey, which focused on how Israeli Arabs may vote, presented a surprising result, as slightly under a quarter of its respondents said they believed Benjamin Netanyahu was best suited for the position of prime minister, Zman Yisrael, the Hebrew sister site of The Times of Israel, reported Wednesday.

The September 17 vote was called after Netanyahu failed to form a coalition following the general election on April 9.

The poll, commissioned by Arik Rudnitzky of the Konrad Adenauer Program for Jewish-Arab Cooperation at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies in Tel Aviv University, was conducted by Mitchell Barak of Keevoon Research Strategy & Communications. It had 716 respondents and a 3.6% margin of error.

The survey was held against a backdrop of the political firestorm sparked over the Likud party’s failed bid to deploy anti-fraud cameras in polling stations — especially in Arab communities. Based on previous elections and the survey results, researchers predict that Arab voter turnout in next week’s elections could potentially come to a high of about 56% overall, but qualifies that assessment, noting that only 32% said they would definitely vote on September 17.

An additional 31% said they were undecided but inclined to vote, 10.6% were inclined not to vote, and 26.4% said they would not cast ballots. 

April’s elections saw Arab voter turnout drop to a historic low of 49.2%.

An Arab Israeli woman casts her vote during elections for the Knesset on April 9, 2019, at a polling station in the northern town of Tayibe. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

Among other findings, the survey stated that of those who are undecided but inclined to vote, 33% said they would cast their ballot in hopes for a better future, 18% plan to vote to bolster Arab representation in parliament, 13% seek to exercise their civil right to vote, 10.5% said they seek to effect political change, and 9.8% said they would vote to express their confidence in their elected officials.

Those who said they were inclined not to vote cited as the reasons for their decision: Jewish politicians’ offensive rhetoric toward the Arab community (34%), the feeling that no Arab party represented them (20.6%), little to no interest in politics (19.4%), or an ideological objection to participating in elections for the Israeli parliament (17.8%).

In something of a predictable result, the poll found that 80.5% of Arab Israelis who plan on voting will lend their support to the Joint List, an alliance comprising the Arab or mostly Arab parties Balad, Ra’am-Ta’al, and Hadash.

A separate poll published by the Kan public broadcaster on Tuesday projected the Joint List could win 10 Knesset seats come September 17, down from the 13 seats it won in the 2015 elections.

The Rudnitzky-Barak survey further concluded that the Arab community’s support for Israeli left-wing parties was likely to drop to a historic low.

The Labor party and the Democratic Camp – a political alliance comprising former prime minister Ehud Barak’s Israel Democratic Party, Meretz, and breakaway Labor MK Stav Shaffir – are together projected to secure under 1% of Arabs’ votes.

The findings further showed that 1.2% of Arab Israelis plan to vote for Likud, 1.4% will lend challenger Blue and White their support, 1.6% said they plan to vote for Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party, and 1.2% said they will vote for the ultra-Orthodox Shas party.

But perhaps the biggest surprise in the Rudnitzky-Barak poll was the fact that 23.6% of respondents said they believed Netanyahu was best suited for the role of premier – a surprising show of support given Netanyahu’s video plea during the 2015 elections urging his supporters to vote so as to offset the “droves of Arabs” ostensibly rushing to the polling stations.

Joint (Arab) List leader Ayman Odeh attends a Knesset session in Jerusalem, January 1, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Only 9.9% of Arab Israelis said they believed Joint List leader Ayman Odeh should be the prime minister; and 9.6% named Blue and White leader Benny Gantz as the best candidate for the job; followed by Barak (7.7%), Liberman (7.5%), and Yamina leader Ayelet Shaked (7%).

A large majority of the respondents who intend to vote (77.8%) said they support the integration of an Arab party or Arab lawmakers into a future center-left coalition or hope to see the Arab parties lend a center-left coalition external support.

According to the survey, the majority of Arab Israelis — 71.5% — are satisfied with their life in Israel; 65.2% believe they are generally treated equally, and 64.7% have an overall positive view of the state. But when asked to rate their sense of belonging in the country on a scale of 1 to 10, the average response, pegged at 4.04, indicated that the majority of Arab Israelis do not affiliate themselves with the State of Israel.

The poll noted that this sentiment reflects the identity dilemma that characterizes the Arab Israeli community, although it seems most can reconcile their national and civil identities.

About half of the respondents chose to define themselves as having an identity comprising both national and civilian components, with 33.5% defining themselves as Arab Israeli and 16.3% saying they were Palestinian Israeli. Among those who opted for a purely national identity, 14.1% defined themselves as Arab and another 14.1% as Palestinian, while 17.3% defined themselves as Israeli. An additional 4.6% chose “other.”

The majority of respondents (59.2%) said crime, unemployment, welfare, and the Arab community’s dire housing crisis should top the Arab parties’ political agenda; 14.2% cited issues related to Jewish-Arab relations, only 13.3% said Arab lawmakers should focus on the Palestinian issue, and another 13.3% said they should focus on repealing the nation-state law.

The quasi-constitutional “Basic Law: Israel as the ‎Nation-State of the Jewish People,” passed in mid-2018, enshrined Israel as the exclusive nation-state of the Jewish people, drawing protests from Druze and Arab minorities who said the legislation created official discrimination between Jews and non-Jews.

This article first appeared in Hebrew on The Times of Israel’s sister site, Zman Yisrael.

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