Support for Joint List increased in all Druze villages but one, results show

Expert says election data indicates Arab alliance’s messaging against Jewish nation-state and Kaminitz laws resonated with some Druze

Adam Rasgon is a former Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

Activists and supporters of the Druze community in Israel protest against the national-state law recently passed by the Knesset for its ostensible discrimination against the community, at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on August 4, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Activists and supporters of the Druze community in Israel protest against the national-state law recently passed by the Knesset for its ostensible discrimination against the community, at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on August 4, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Druze voters cast ballots in higher numbers for the Joint List in the national elections last week compared to the September vote, official results showed.

In every Druze-majority village in Israel, excluding those in the Golan Heights, a higher percentage of voters supported the Joint List, an alliance of the four largest Arab-majority parties, than in September, with the exception of Sajur.

In a number of Druze-majority villages, the percentage of those who supported the Joint List increased very substantially. For example, in Yarka, the hometown of one the Likud party’s candidates, 15.76% of voters cast ballots for the alliance, while 5.99% did in September.

In Isfiya, where one of the top Joint List members resides, the coalition received 30.55% of the vote compared to 20.74% in September. In Beit Jann, 10.10% of voters backed the Joint List, whereas only 3.45% did in September.

In a handful of Druze-majority villages such as Julis, Yanuh-Jat and Ein al-Assad, support for the Joint List rose compared to September but only by a few percentage points.

The Druze, who follow a 1,000-year-old offshoot of Shiite Islam, account for approximately 145,000 people, predominantly living in villages in northern Israel. They have historically made major contributions to public service in the country, especially in the realm of security.

Arik Rudnitzky, an expert on Arab Israeli politics the Israel Democracy Institute, said that the results showed that the Joint List’s campaign messaging against the Jewish nation-state law and Kaminitz amendment to the Building and Planning law resonated with some Druze who had previously voted for Zionist parties.

Members of the Joint List seen at the party’s headquarters, in the Arab city of Shfar’am, during the Knesset Elections, on March 2, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

“Its opposition to these laws caught ears in the Druze community,” Rudnitzky said in a phone call. “You cannot disregard that more than 40% of Druze voters supported Blue and White, but it is clear that more and more Druze are looking critically at the government and what [Blue and White chief Benny] Gantz may do with the nation-state and Kaminitz laws.”

The nation-state law, which the Knesset passed in 2018, enshrined Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people,” recognized Jewish holidays and days of remembrance, declared Hebrew the state’s sole national language and backed “the development of Jewish settlement as a national value.”

The legislation included no reference to the equality of all Israeli citizens akin to the one made in 1948 in the Declaration of Independence, which pledged that the nascent state would “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.”

A substantial part of the Druze community has vehemently protested the law, with many calling it racist.

The Kaminitz amendment, which was passed by the Knesset in 2017, concentrated enforcement powers for planning issues into the hands of a national authority, expanded the use of the state’s administrative powers to carry out demolition and eviction orders, and substantially increased the use of financial penalties against offenders.

It has significantly affected Druze-majority towns, which have long suffered from a major shortage of zoning plans and building permits.

Aaed Kayal, the Joint List’s campaign manager, on September 17, 2019. (Adam Rasgon/Times of Israel)

Aaed Kayal, who was a senior strategic adviser to the Joint List’s campaign, said that the alliance targeted Druze voters and highlighted the Joint List’s opposition to the nation-state law and Kaminitz amendment.

“We ran ads that said, ‘You have a vote against the nation-state law,’ and ‘You have a vote against the Kaminitz law,'” he said in a phone call.

Kayal added that he thought Druze support for the Joint List increased because the alliance was the only party to call for the abolition of these two pieces of legislation.

“A number of Druze ultimately found that our positions on these issues represent them more than the other parties,” he said.

According to the Israel Democracy Institute think tank, an estimated 21.2% of Druze voters cast ballots for the Joint List last week compared to some 16.3% in September.

Protesters wave Israeli and Druze flags at a demonstration in Tel Aviv against the nation-state law, on August 4, 2018. (Luke Tress / Times of Israel staff)

IDI numbers also showed that when the Joint List ran on two separate slates — Hadash-Ta’al and Ra’am-Balad — in April 2019, only 10.8% of Druze voters supported them.

In contrast, the IDI data indicated an estimated 41.4% of Druze voters supported Blue and White last week, whereas some 46% did in September.

Blue and White has called for “fixing,” rather than canceling, the nation-state law and freezing the Kaminitz amendment for several years before revising it.

Kayal also argued that the higher number of Druze voters for the Joint List reflected a transformation in the way some view their identities.

“The nation-state law told them that they are Arabs without the same rights as other citizens,” he said. “So by voting for the Joint List, they are saying: ‘OK, we are Arabs.'”

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