The curious case of the Arab vote in the Israeli elections

A guest post by AKUS

Jerusalem Post, Jan. 21, 2013.Arab League to Israeli Arabs: Vote to stop the far right‘.

“The Arab League on Sunday called for Israeli Arabs to vote so that they can stop the establishment of a right-wing government “that will promote racist laws and ethnic cleansing.””

The Guardian: Wrong about everything. All the time:

“Silver Blaze”, Arthur Conan Doyle:

Gregory : “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
Holmes: “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
Gregory: “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
Holmes: “That was the curious incident.”

At some point, if not already, someone is going to analyze the Arab vote in the recent Israeli elections once the excitement of playing “build the coalition” subsides.

Israel’s Arab demographic makes up about 20% of the population. If every Arab voter only voted for one or other of the Arab parties, all else being equal (e.g., the same proportion of adults eligible to vote in the Arab sector as in the non-Arab sector) the Arab parties would hold approximately 24 seats in the Knesset. Instead, it appears that they have 8 seats (United Arab list – Ta’al and Balad). Even adding in Hadash, which has a mix of Jewish and Arab communists, they have at most 12 seats.

So how did at least half and probably more than half of Israel’s Arabs vote? That is surely the most curious aspect of the recent election results.

We can rule out the right wing and orthodox Jewish parties.  Apparently, therefore, Israeli Arabs exercised their votes for the center and center-left parties, giving them the 12- 16 “missing seats”. Traditionally, Labor has had strong support in the Arab sector, and this may have helped them retain 15 seats in the new Knesset. One of Labor’s seats will be occupied by a Christian Arab woman, Nadia Hilou, of Jaffa. It is also likely, I would think, that Yesh Atid’s unexpectedly strong showing could be due to Arabs responding to its social and political messages of cooperation and equality.

Until an analysis of the Arab vote is available, and specially the missing Arab vote in the sense of missing from the Arab parties, I suggest it reinforces two major themes of this election.

One is that people in Israel, like every else, vote for their daily interests ahead of grand foreign policy issues. Young Arabs are just as likely to be concerned about their and their children’s futures. Issues like housing, jobs, financial security, and protection from the manic regimes surrounding Israel are as likely to be their top concerns as they are for non-Arab Israelis. In addition, they will be willing to vote for parties that accept them as equals and promise to make the effort to ensure equality is not just written into the laws, as it is, but practiced in daily life. They certainly are underwhelmed by the radical Arabs like Zuabi and Tibi.

The other is that, quite clearly, the Palestinian issue is not one that is the most pressing for a majority of Israel’s Arabs, even if they believe that Yesh Atid and Labor could be more accommodating to the possibility of creating a Palestinian State on the West Bank than the other Jewish parties. Polls have shown that a majority of Israel’s Arabs believe that they are better off in every way than they would be in the countries surrounding Israel. Polls held in towns and villages bordering the Green Line have demonstrated that Israel’s Arab have no desire and no intent to join a putative Palestinian state, should one ever arise on the West Bank. Put quite simply, they know where their bread is buttered, and it is not with the Gazans or West Bankers.

This was the curious incident in the last election – the Arab vote did nothing to reflect what so many treat as Israel’s primary concern – the future of the West Bank.

Thus, while the Guardian and the mainstream media – not to mention the EU and factions within the United States – agonize over the “two state solution”, Israel’s Arabs have made their own views quite plain. Their “missing seats” show that they are Israelis, not Palestinians, they are in Israel to stay, and wish to be part of what we can only hope will be a strengthening main-stream Israeli consensus formed by centrist parties such as Yesh Atid and Labor and a move away from the extremism of the Likud and Habayit Hayehudi.


54 replies »

  1. Though in general you are spot on it is somewhat shallow analysis of the 20%.
    For example Druze are not Arabs.
    Many of the Bedouin’s see no reason to vote for any of the 2 large Arab parties or even not to Hadash.
    There are some mixed Arab Jewish families in Israel.
    There are some Arabs which will vote Likkud.

    As you quite clearly state in the end the Israeli Arabs (even those who call themselves Israeli Palestinians) acknowledge that they are Israelis first and they come from a Palestinian heritege.

    This is something that the many in the West do not get.
    Even those in East Jerusalem see themselves as Israelis.
    Unless you ask Nat.

    • Well, its a bit cumbersome to write out Arabs, Druze, Circassions, Bahai, Bedouin, Hari Krishna, etc. etc. Let’s just say this refers to the non-Jewish vote.

        • In all seriousness, i think its time for the Russian to start voting as if they are Israelis, not Russian immigrants voting for “their” party. The voting in Beersheva and Ashdod, which have large Russian communities, was overwhelmingly for “their guy”

      • Sorry, Akus, but your assumptions are not borne out by the facts. Click on the official results link below and then on the Excel links where one can see exactly how many votes each party collected. As you read Hebrew, it won’t be difficult for you: others will need an interpreter.

        As usual the three major Arab parties took the lion’s share but Meretz made significant gains, presumably because of Issawi Freij, at number 5 on the list, while there was the usual small vote for Labor, Kadima and Tzipi Livni’s party and yes, the Likud and Shas! Curiously Lapid made no real impact in the Arab townships, nor did Da’am, a joint Arab-Jewish workers party.

    • Isik i don’t want to shatter your ignorance regarding the Druze, but they are definitely Arabs with their own Druze religion.

      • Last time I called a Druze an Arab I had my arse kicked. I guess you know better than how the Golan’s Druze see themselves.

        • Itsik try to google the word “Druze”. You could learn something new.
          From Wikipedia:
          The Druze faith extended to many areas in the Middle East, but most of the surviving modern Druze can trace their origin to the Wadi al-Taymour in South Lebanon, which is named after an Arab tribe Taymour-Allah (formerly Taymour-Allat) which, according to Islamic historian, al-Tabari, first came from Arabia into the valley of the Euphrates where they were Christianized prior to their migration into the Lebanon
          Encyclopedia Britannica:
          … the Druzes are “a mixture of refugee stocks, in which the Arab largely predominates, grafted on to an original mountain population of Aramaic blood
          n 1957, the Israeli government designated the Druze a distinct ethnic community at the request of its communal leaders. So your Druze friend’s asskicking was based on a de jure principle (while your ass was certainly a de facto victim)

          • Peter,
            Let me explain my point as it may came across wrong.
            Druze are different – very different – than Israeli Arabs.
            They do not like to be called Aravim but Druzim.
            That was my point.
            Their origins is irrelevent because we are talking about who this group is likely to vote for.
            They will vote for the same parties that will support their livelyhood, answer their curent agenda or fit with what their elders convince them to vote for like most Israelis.
            For example, most Shas voters are voting Shas regardless of Shas manifest.

        • Druzes are Arabs who have their own faith. You’ll get yout arse kicked if you tell them that their religion is a Muslim or a Christian sect because they see it as completely independent from any other faith.

        • Itsik, I assume you introduced yourself as an Israeli? The Golan Druze are smart people, they will tell Israelis what they want to hear because they think it’s the best strategy to be left alone. They will do the same with Muslims or Christians in Lebanon. You need to spend a lot of time in their community or to be introduced by people they trust if you want them to tell you what they really think.

          • Nat, I don’t think you realy understand what does it mean to grow up in Israel.
            It’s small, and every one knows everyone else.
            Especially in the upper Galilee and Golan Heights.
            But hey, someone like you can always tell me new things about the people I grew up with.

            We know what the Golan Druze think and we are fine with it.
            It is their right and even though we disagree we respect it.
            While working in the apple orchard we had quite interesting discussions at tea break with Hussein and Saar about what they believe in and why.
            Ultimately I have no idea how I will feel since my family is not split between 2 countries which are at war, one of which tortures people routinly.

            And I was not reffering to the IDF treatment as torture but rather to Syria’s treatment of it’s own people, which I’m sure even Sprattyville will agree is beyond believe.

  2. AKUS, great piece, as always, but there’s the finale that I would definitely dispute:

    …move away from the extremism of the Likud…

    Seriously? Likud, “extremist”? This is surely beneath you.

  3. I think that your analysis becomes pretty much null when you consider the fact that 50% of the Arabs electorate do not bother to vote…. or am I missing somthing?

      • When you consider that the Jewish population voted in rate of 70% and the Arabs only 50%, you can make the assumption that becuase there are 1.4 M Arabs and only 12 madates to the Arab parties, there are between 12 – 16 mandates to give.
        as I mentioned in the following post, at most there were no more the 4 mandates from the Arabs to Jewish parties.

    • “the fact that 50% of the Arabs electorate do not bother to vote…. or am I missing somthing?”

      Quite possibly you are missing several things. For example: “Do not” – or “did not” bother to vote?

      If the Arabs had obeyed the Arab League’s wishes, they could have swamped the Knesset with something of the order of 24 seats or even more had they voted purely along ethnic or demographic lines, given that about 1/3 of the population as a whole did not vote.

      Clearly, they did not. Nevertheless, you assume that the Arab vote was less than the average 66% turnout that is being reported on historical grounds, but the turnout for the electorate as a whole was one of the highest recorded, at least recently, and there is nothing to indicate yet that the turnout in the Arab sector was any different.

      The other thing (or two) that you are missing is that if they were truly concerned about the Palestinian issue, why did they not vote en masse for the two Arab parties or even Hadash which all obsess over this issue? Even if “only 50% ” of Arabs vote, against an average of 66% they should have had more impact than than Balad and Ta’al actually did had they all voted for those parties.

      So I think my main point stands – many Arabs (and other “non-Jews”) voted for the other parties. My guess is Yesh Atid and Labor (which has historically had Arab support for various reasons, not all ethically the best, mind you).

      I will be very interested to see any research on Arab voting patterns in this election that emerges, specially if it reveals whether and why large numbers of Arabs voted for Yesh Atid and Labor, thus boosting either or both their results.

      Moreover, I think the dismal showing of the two Arab parties shows at a minimum a dislike or distaste for them in the Arab community, and mostly a feeling that they are utterly irrelevant to the economic and social issues that really concern many Israeli Arabs, which are the same as the population at large, and not what happens with the West bank.

      • 1. you assume beforehand that many Arabs voted for Yesh Atid. On what grounds? Do you have anything to support that notion?
        2. You said “there is nothing to indicate yet that the turnout in the Arab sector was any different”. The low turnout in the Arab sector was reported in every major news agency in Israel (Ynet, NRG, Haaretz, News1, arutz 7 and more). They may be wrong but considering that in the last elections Arabs turnout was 53% and before that 56% and that historically they vote less in relation to the Jewish population, I don’t see many reasons to doubt that. But we would see wont we?
        3. You said “if they were truly concerned about the Palestinian issue”. I would be happy to be informed where have I stated that? I completely agree that the Palestinian issue is not on the top agenda of most Israeli Arabs. That’s why they vote in low numbers.
        4. You havent addressed the number of mandates you assumed (12 -16). if it was true it would mean that Arabs voted in rates higher then the Jewish population, which is obviously false.

        • I do not “assume” – in the absence of other data, and the unexpectedly strong showing of both parties, I “guess” that many Arabs did.

          I think in much of your responses you are violently agreeing with me …

          • “I “guess” that many Arabs did.”
            You are right. my mistake.

            “I think in much of your responses you are violently agreeing with me …”
            Read my responses more carefully. I don’t have to disagree about everything you wrote to reject your main thesis…

    • Whether they bother to vote or not, the fact is that if they have Israeli citizenship they can exercise that right if they wish, and that right includes their womenfolk. Are women in the neighbouring states, or non-Muslim citizens allowed to vote?

  4. Or to be more precise, if you consider 50% Arabs voting and 70% of Jewish voting, then you need roughly 38,500 to bake a mandate.
    If you consider also that there are about 100K Druze in your definition of Arabs (and they historically vote for Jewish parties and, let’s face it, the point you were trying to make was about those who consider themselves Palestinian Arabs) then at most they have another 4 mandates to contribute to none Arab parties.
    A research that was conducted here ( on the issue a few years ago also says (and I really don’t know if it’s true) that those Arabs who vote for Jewish parties do it mostly of historical habit and not because of genuine interest in the elections.

    I am really not trying to make a political or ideological point here. I just think your analysis is dead wrong.

    • I agree that the analysis is probably over-simplified, but I think it’s over-dramatic to say that it’s “dead wrong.” In the end, the point is – we don’t actually yet know the voter patterns, even the relatvie turnout figures you give are mere guesses.

      Even when the analysts report in more detail over the coming weeks and months, any conclusions reached will be tainted by that old saying that you can prove anything with statistics, and the more nuanced and complex the facts (and the Israeli electoral system could hardly be more nuanced and complex) the greater the scope for mis-representation and spin to suit one’s own agenda.

      To be clear, I am not saying AKUS is right or wrong. He raises an interesting question, I just don’t know that we know the answer as yet.

      • You have some good points, and if AKUS presented it the way you do I wouldn’t say anything.
        But it is a big understatement to say that mistaking the influence of Arab voters on Jewish parties from 12 -16 mandates to 4- 5 in reality is just “over simplified”.
        Also it should be pointed out that it’s not true that we don’t know the voting patterns of Israeli Arabs as it is much researched after every election. Of course, there could be surprises on this elections, but from past voting patterns we could infer what those 4-5 Arab mandates were voting. I seriously doubt that Arabs voted in any significant numbers to “yesh atid”.

        So to conclude, I take back my statement of “dead wrong” and replace it with “significantly missing and so probably mostly wrong”.

    • “those Arabs who vote for Jewish parties do it mostly of historical habit and not because of genuine interest in the elections.” Gee, I wonder, how did they get into that habit?
      You know, of course, that people voting for a party “out of habit” and “not because of a genuine interest in the elections” is not unusual, don’t you? This is not limited to Arabs or Jews or anyone else living in a participatory democracy.

      • I agree. many of my friends voted dispassionately for 2 decades now. It is very common in all Democracies. But it really wasn’t my point.
        AKUS tried to make the point that young Arabs are politically involved. I don’t think its true. I may be wrong but the statements of young Arabs themselves say otherwise.

    • There are many Bedouins that vote for Jewish dominated parties.
      also, you have left many new Arab parties which didn’t even pass the bar.

      I may be wrong but what I understand, and agree, from this article is that the Arab population in Israel is divided into 3.
      The one which vote for their 3 main parties (either Arab or mixed Jewish Arab) – having either Communist or pro Palestinian / Anti-Zionist agendas.

      The seconod group either don’t turn up or vote for smaller, similar parties.

      The third vote for the main stream parties which some times are parties like Shas or Meretz – and they do it because they see that unlike their own parties Meretz or even Shas actualy do something for the minority population of this country more than the Arab mainstream parties do.

      • Some Palestinian citizens of Israel vote for Shas because Shas defends the same conservative family values as mainstream Islam.

        Ultra-orthodox families have a lot in common with the average Palestinian family – they’re all families who don’t have a lot of money and raise numerous children with an emphasis on religious and community values.

  5. You are absolutely right, Roy. I was going to say something similar. Akus’ maths is no better than Adam’s. He got totally confused about the reliability of opinion poll sample sizes a little while ago.

  6. I feel a bit faint. I’ve just read a post on this blog that doesn’t jump off the page and try to tear your face off! While I don’t agree with all the conclusions I am equally interested in discovering what ‘the dog didn’t do in the night time’. Perhaps an analysis of where those Arab votes wandered will be available on these pages soon.


  7. As if they saw your post and decided to address it, yesterday yaron London and Moti Kirshenbaum interviewed 2 researchers, one from the Israeli Institute for the democracy and the other is a political researcher from Bar-Ilan university, who analyzed the voting patterns of Israeli Arabs in the current elections.
    First, a correction on my part. The voting rate of the Arabs was 57%, which is still much lower than the Jewish one, but represents an improvement.

    So, besides the 12 Mandates for the Arab parties, about 2 mandates worth of votes were lost due to voting for parties who didn’t cross the threshold. Also, about 10K of votes was surplus votes in the Arab parties which will go to whatever parties they have exchange agreement with.
    Regarding Arabs voting for Jewish parties, the Likud-Beiteno got about 30K votes, Labor got about 25K votes and Meretz got 11K votes.
    The rest of the Jewish parties got somewhere between few hundreds (the extremist Aotzma LeIsrael) and few thousands (the Ultra-orthodox Shas).
    The researchers haven’t indicated that Arabs voted in any significant numbers to “Yesh Atid”.

    The conclusions:
    1. Analyzing the voting patterns of the Israeli public does not take weeks or months, as anyone familiar with elections in Israel knows. This time it took only 24 hours.
    2. Considering 57% voting turnout, 12 mandates of Arab parties, 2 mandates lost on parties who didn’t cross the threshold and the 10K surplus, the remaining Arab votes that can go to Jewish parties can be no more than 3 mandates in a whole, and certainly not even close to 12-16 mandates.
    3. The Arab vote didn’t influence any of the Jewish parties in any significant way (the biggest vote went to Likud, which didn’t even amount to a mandate). Yesh Atid certainly wasn’t strengthened by Arab vote.
    4. The voting patterns (30k to Likud and only 11K to Meretz) shows that the Arab vote for Jewish parties is not as a result of political involvement on the part of young Arabs, but on remnants of the voting habits of older Arabs – from a time where the Likud was a real liberal right which openly believed that Arab rights should be strengthened and that Arabs should be an integral part of society.
    Today, there is no sane reason for an informed and involved Arab individual to vote for a party (Likud) that has prominent members who really think that Arabs should be transferred out of Israel (and it really doesn’t matter in what humane way they want to do it) and spout animosity towards Arabs every time they speak about the subject.
    Also, if those Arab voters were really informed and involved they would vote for Meretz in much more significant numbers as it is the only Jewish party today who openly champions Arabs rights (and they have a record of doing just that). Even Labor doesn’t openly support improving Arab right as its chairman avoids the subject of Arabs as a burning potato.

    • Totaly agree with you! Especialy about the last part.
      I’m shocked about the low Meretz turn up.
      One would assume that given Meretz record on trying to follow it’s commitment for all the citizens, Arabs who are upset with their own parties obsession with the Zionist nature of the state and portraying the negetive in everything rather than focusing on the back yard first, will vote for it in bigger numbers.

      Which goes to show the real reason for the missing mandates is that even though it was a slightly higher turn up it is still a fairly lower number of voters in comparison to the Jewish votes.

      • 11200 votes for Meretz in the Arab sector represents a doubling of the vote compared with 2009. Shas also increased its share of the Arab vote to 14000, implying the tendency to curry favour with the party which controls the Interior Ministry- and therefore funding for municipalities.

    • Thanks for this information. However, it seems to me that there is still a need to refine your point:

      ” Considering 57% voting turnout, 12 mandates of Arab parties, 2 mandates lost on parties who didn’t cross the threshold and the 10K surplus, the remaining Arab votes that can go to Jewish parties can be no more than 3 mandates in a whole, and certainly not even close to 12-16 mandates.”

      You are stacking the 57% Arab turnout (by the way – as Adam pointed out – by US standards, quite normal to a bit high by US standards) against a 100% non-Arab turnout when, apparently it was more like 66% (which is very high,and a significant slap in the face for those predicting the death of democracy in Israel). The impact of the Arab vote is greater than a 57% turnout woulds suggest.

      So I think that ” the remaining Arab votes that can go to Jewish parties can be no more than 3 mandates in a whole,” is an understatement, and perhaps the net of it might have been more like twice that number.

      In a split Knesset, 3 – 6 seats decide who forms the government.

      You report that the biggest number of Arab votes to non-Arab parties (30k) went have gone to the Likud – “(the biggest vote went to Likud, which didn’t even amount to a mandate).” If that is the case, it would be interesting to know where they came from – perhaps the Golan and Haifa area Druze? And certainly a point to make when the “apartheid” libel pops up.

      And again, in a split Knesset, those 3 – 6 seats might have made all the difference between who gets to form the government – if they truly went to Likud, and had instead gone to Yesh Atid and Labor we might be seeing a Yesh Atid-Labor-Meretz based coalition and Netanyahu out.

      Thanks for all your analysis and reporting!!

      A few other thoughts:

      There is one thing you said which is really incorrect IMO “where the Likud was a real liberal right “. When was the Likud ever “liberal”?!

      It appears that Balad, with Ms. Zuabi who claims to represent Israeli Arabs as Palestinian Arabs received the fewest votes of the three Arab parties (counting Hadash as an Arab party, which is not quite true). So once again we see a great deal of sound and fury, great stuff for the media with flotillas etc.signifying very little – few Israeli Arabs want to be seen as “Palestinian Arabs”.

      • Actually I didn’t do the math with 100% non-Arab turnout. I did it with 70%, and that’s because the 66% you are talking about is the general turnout of all Israeli’s (Jews, Arabs, Bedouins whose turnout was only 15%). So my estimates of only 3 mandates still stands (I can send you the Excel if you like).

        You said:
        ” There is one thing you said which is really incorrect IMO “where the Likud was a real liberal right “. When was the Likud ever “liberal”?!”
        I urge you to go back to the prominent members of Likud in the 70’s and 80’s whose liberal attitudes towards Israeli Arabs trumps the attitude of Mapai back then and even, to some extent, Labor today.
        Also please refer yourself to the Likud veterans (Benny Begin, Michael Eitan) who were ousted this year in favor of populist loudmouths and are much more like what the Likud was back then (and supposed to be by its founders) then it is now.

        • Yes, I thought that a Likud that had no place for Benny begin or Michael Eitan was really something else indeed.

          But I loathed Menachem Begin and his followers, though I always credit him with not being corrupt like so many of today’s lot, across the political spectrum.