By: Huda Abu Hamid, sociologist and social activist
Had the 1.7 million people who abstained in the last elections, voted for the present Knesset, the Center-Left would have gained 77 mandates, the Right and the Ultra-Orthodox – only 43, making a Center-Left government possible!
(Translated from the Hebrew article, published on Dec. 26 2012).
Lately I hear among my friends voices calling for Israeli Arabs to boycott the coming elections. Salman Matzalha, the well known Druze poet, calls for such a boycott in articles in "Haaretz". I think that Israeli Arabs, precisely because they are a minority, as is the Jewish Left, must vote. I am using the platform of "On the Left Side" – respected by a great number of Arab readers – to open a debate with those who call for a boycott of the elections and try to win them over to my opinion.
I shall start with an argument widely accepted by those who favor boycotting the elections. They claim that such an act of protest influences the authorities to work toward increased equality of rights for Arab citizens in the State of Israel, but they are greatly mistaken! Abstention always weakens the party closest to one's opinion; always strengthens the party that one opposes the most! I assume that the majority of the Arab electorate opposes the policies of "Likud-Beitenu" and "Habayit Hayehudi". If so, just know, my Arab friends, that if you abstain – those are the very parties you will strengthen! Will those parties work for equal rights for Israeli Arabs?!
Another contradictory argument suggests that our votes do not make any difference whatsoever. That argument is also flawed for the reason I gave previously. Our votes given to the parties closest to our ideas will strengthen them and weaken parties unfriendly to us. Numbers to illustrate my claim: During the last elections, 65% of 4.8 million people with voting rights (Jews and Arabs) actually voted (the voting rate among Israeli Arabs was only 54%). A 35% abstention rate of the entire population means that 1.7 million people did not exercise their voting rights. By comparison, 1.67 million people voted for right-wing and ultra-orthodox parties, while only 1.4 million people voted for left-wing parties, including so-called "Arab parties"! All analysts are of the opinion that the majority of the people who abstained supported center-left ideas. Had the 1.7 million people who abstained voted for the present Knesset, the Center-Left would have gained 77 mandates, while the Right and the ultra-orthodox would have received only 43 mandates. Tzipi Livni, not Binyamin Netanyahu, would have been the Prime Minister. So is it worth it for us to vote or not?!
I have no illusions about the results of the coming elections. No, turnabout to the left will not occur this time. Not all of those who are doubtful about voting will exercise their voting rights. But to give up on a chance to make a difference without a try?!
There is yet another argument in support of boycotting elections: low voting rates help small political parties – those close to the minimum percentages of votes required to gain representation at the Knesset, by lowering the number of threshold votes. If that is true, is the Arab voter (or the left-wing Jewish voter) interested in helping the Kahanist party to gain entry into the Knesset?!
Salman Matzalha makes another point in his last article, suggesting that there is no difference between Zionist parties, regarding essential issues such as the occupation, war, peace and national justice. Mr. Matzalha, we can vote for "Arab" parties. And, with all due respect, are "Meretz" and "Hatnuah" identical to "Likud-Beitenu" and "Habayit Hayehudi"?! Exaggerations are permitted in poetry – "for beauty of style", but poetic license has no place inpolitics.
I agree with Matzalha only on one issue. He rejects the generalization in the expression "Arab parties" (although he can also be faulted for "generalizing" about "Zionist parties"). For the sake of my Arab brothers and Jewish neighbors, here is a more precise description of these parties – and, a partial explanation on why they don't merge as well:
• Hadash – The Democratic Front for Peace and Equality, is a secular party that includes Jewish and Arab candidates (albeit with a narrow Jewish electorate). It stands for "two States for two Nations". The first candidates on it’s Kenesset list are Mohamed Bracha, Dr. Hana Sawid, Dr. Dov Hanin, Dr. Appo Agrabia and Nebillah Espanioli .
• Balad – The National Democratic Union, stands for "One State for all Citizens". Its list of its candidates includes Jamal Zhalka, Hanin Zuabi, Bassel Netess, Ju'ma Zabraka and Abed Fukra .
• Raam-Taal – The Union for Arab Renewal, is an Islamist party that stands for a Palestinian State alongside the State of Israel. Its list of candidates includes Sheikh Ibrahim Tzatzur, Dr. Ahmed Tibi, Massud Gana'im, Taleb Abu Ahrar and Taleb A-Sana.
And so, four weeks before election day, I turn to all my Israeli Arab brothers: go and vote! Vote for one of the Arab parties, or for Meretz, or for "Hatnuah". Do not strengthen "Habayit Hayehudi" or the Kahanists. Do not abstain!