Israel: Haaretz paper calls on Arab voter to turn out

'For peace, for equality, for democracy' and against Netanyahu

15 January, 19:58

(ANSAmed) - TEL AVIV, JANUARY 15 - One week ahead of national elections which will likely see a triumph for the nationalist right-wing Benjamin Netanyahu-Avigdor Lieberman ticket, liberal Haaretz newspaper on Tuesday issued an unusual appeal. In an op-ed written in both Hebrew and Arabic, Haaretz called on Israel's one million disillusioned Arab voters to resist the temptation of boycotting the elections and to turn out en masse to help stop the right wing from gaining even more power. The Netanyahu government has stirred resentment by passing a series of discriminatory measures, but this is not the time to let bitterness cloud civic judgment, Haaretz said in its impassioned plea. ''Arab citizens, go and vote: for peace, for equality, for democracy'', Haaretz wrote. In what is the latest provocation against Israel's marginalized Arab citizens, which make up 20% of the population, extreme right-wing Israelis on Tuesday marched on Musmus, an Arab-majority village between Tel Aviv and Haifa. Police successfully contained the march, but the damage was done as the message of hostility and intimidation reached its target.

The outgoing 120-member Knesset, or parliament, has 10 Arab MPs on majority Arab tickets, and another five Arab MPs on Druze and Zionist lists.

Arab voter affluence has declined over the past 20 years, and while everyone agrees Arabs are under-represented, no one agrees on how to remedy the situation. Israeli Arabs look back nostalgically on Yitzhak Rabin's Labor administration of 1992-1995 as a positive turning point in Arab-Israeli relations and in the peace process with Palestinians, when 70% of Arabs turned out to vote.

That climate changed, and by 2009 just 53% of Arab voters turned out. Given the strong Islamic winds now blowing from former Arab Spring countries, and with the semi-legal Islamic Movement in Israel calling for a boycott, Arab citizens' participation in next week's elections might be even lower, analysts said.

''Whoever doesn't turn out is de facto handing a vote to the Israeli right wing,'' said Arab MP Jamal Zahalke, from the secular left-wing Balad party.

Arabs also face logistical difficulties in reaching the urns, said Sheikh Ibrahim Sarsur, citing Bedouins living in remote locations in the Neghev Desert.

Along with traditional pro-Arab parties such as the seasoned Hadash (communists), Balad (radicals) and Raam-Taal (which has a pragmatic Islamic wing), this year's campaign also includes grassroots workers' party Daam, led by Arab trade unionist Asma Aghbarya. Fielding both Arab and Jewish candidates, Daam is betting on ''the necessary solidarity between Arab and Jewish workers.'' While it has been welcomed with a degree of openness by local media, it is unlikely to win any Knesset seats, at least this time around, analysts said.(ANSAmed).