As an Arab living in Israel, Ayman Odeh never had the brightest of political futures. His fellow Arab politicians, divided among four parties with radically different ideologies, have always squabbled too much to be counted as a real force. But now Mr Odeh could be on the verge of a major breakthrough, as the top candidate on a united list for all the Arab parties for next Tuesday’s general election. The list, which could give Israel’s Arab population unprecedented political clout, was born of necessity after Right-wingers in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, raised the threshold for representation from two to 3.25 per cent, thus threatening small Arab parties with electoral oblivion.
Israel is getting ready for the big day: On March 17th, citizen residents in Israel will vote for the 20th Knesset since the country’s founding. Then, the politicians we see every night on TV will go head to head for 120 Knesset seats. … Each citizen has one vote. Unlike other democracies, this vote is not given to a candidate, but to a list. And this list is either a political party or a union of parties, such as for example the Zionist camp that unified Zipi Livni’s HaTnua and Avoda, the Labour Party. … Anyone with Israeli citizenship and over the age of 18 is eligible to vote: So that’s Arabs, Druze, Christians and Jews alike. People in prison or who currently do their army service are also eligible to vote. However, this does exclude most of the inhabitants of East Jerusalem who only have a permanent residency and not an Israeli ID. This is due to the difficult status of East Jerusalem. Israeli citizens can’t vote from abroad. You just have to ensure you’re in Israel on election day. That is, apart from diplomats and Israeli embassy staff based abroad. These people vote at the earlier date of March 5th to ensure their votes arrive in Israel to be counted on election day. It is debatable, but many parties and politicians think that you need to live in Israel to influence its future because it is much too easy to sit thousands of miles away and make a decision that probably won’t influence your life.
On Feb. 17, a short while after the Supreme Court heard arguments against disqualifying Knesset member Haneen Zoabi from running on the United Arab list, participants at the annual Israel Democracy Conference heard arguments from the television anchor Lucy Aharish in favor of Zoabi’s disqualification from the Knesset race. “Zoabi should demonstrate responsibility toward the Arab society and not incite with harsh words, which provoke Israeli society against its Arab neighbors,” said the successful Arab-Israeli journalist. “The minute you know what your words can do to an entire society, to 20% of this state, you will learn how to talk,” Aharish lashed out. “I am a proud Arab living in this state,” she continued, visibly agitated. “I do not apologize for being an Arab. I do not apologize for being a Muslim.” According to the platform of the party headed by Avigdor Liberman, the foreign minister of Aharish’s state, however, had she chosen to live in the Arab town of Umm al-Fahm or in one of the villages of the Triangle in the north, even an apology would not have saved her from being separated from her country.
Some political pundits are forecasting that the Arab representation in the Knesset will be greater than ever before, not only because of the joint Arab list, but also because there are Arabs on the lists of other parties. And, if the High Court ratifies the disqualification of Balad MK Haneen Zoabi from running in the next elections, the ruling may well provoke Arab voters to come out in far greater numbers to vote for the Arab list, which could result in more mandates than anticipated. Most of the country’s major media outlets are now watching political developments in the Arab sector more closely than in the past and are reporting on them with greater frequency.
The Supreme Court has struck down a petition against the Knesset law which raised the electoral threshold from 2 percent to 3.25 percent — a change that effectively forces Arab parties to run in joint slates in order to gain Knesset representation. Eight justices dismissed the petition with the only opposition coming from the court’s sole Arab justice, Salim Joubran. The court’s reasons were not specified due to the tight timeline before the March 17 election, requiring that all lists be presented by the end of this month. The majority included outgoing President of the Court Asher Grunis as well as the incoming President Justice Miriam Naor, joined by Justices Esther Hayut, Neal Hendel, Hanan Melcer, Uzi Vogelman, Yoram Danziger and Elyakim Rubinstein. Justice Joubran found himself odd man out on the bench — just as he was in another recent ruling, supported by four other Jewish judges, to suspend MK Haneen Zoabi from the Knesset.
Israeli lawmakers voted Monday to dissolve the parliament and hold elections on March 17, making the current government one of the shortest-lived in the country’s history. With some cellphone cameras flashing but no objections, lawmakers passed the motion at the end of an hours-long discussion of last-minute legislation that included no-confidence motions and harsh criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. Lawmaker Dov Khenin called the Netanyahu government “bad and dangerous” and said it had blocked all chances for a political solution to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians and the wider Arab world. Jamal Zahalka accused Netanyahu and his ministers of giving orders that killed thousands of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, and called for a no-confidence vote that would be a “harsh indictment against a criminal government.”
Knesset members are expected to make it tougher for others to join their ranks Tuesday, by voting to raise the threshold for entering the Knesset to 3.25 percent of valid votes in a general election. It was not yet clear how all the Hatnuah and Habayit Hayehudi MKs were planning to vote on the so-called Governance Bill. Monday’s debate on the bill took place without the opposition MKs, who were boycotting the session. Several Hatnuah MKs were critical of the governance bill, which some say will reduce the number of Arab MKs because there are far fewer Arab voters than Jewish ones, making it harder for Arab candidates to get enough votes to push them over the threshold.