Arab Votes September 2019 - Analysis

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81.8% of Arab voters cast their ballots for the Joint List, which won 13 Knesset seats and reproduced its historic achievement of 2015.

Arab Voter

Illustration | Flash 90


The question of Arab voter turnout in the election for the 22nd Knesset remained unclear until just before Election Day. Although the Joint List had been reconstituted about two months earlier, there was little political energy on the Arab street. The Joint List’s election rallies met with only moderate success, perhaps because of the timing of Election Day- about two weeks after the end of summer vacation- when many Arabs were vacationing abroad (and also because the Eid al-Adha holiday fell in the middle of August).

The Joint List’s election propaganda included short and catchy slogans that focused on the political potential of the Arab sector: “We are a million votes.” “No one can ignore a million votes.” “We have power.” There were also a number of grassroots initiatives (of which the most prominent was the “September 17 Coalition”) that mobilized dozens of young activists, with the goal of increasing the Arab turnout. Ultimately these efforts bore fruit. The percentage of eligible Arab voters who cast their ballot was significantly higher than it had been in April, in large part in reaction to the Likud’s election propaganda, warning against the establishment of “a government of the Left and the Arabs.” According to the data provided by the Central Elections Committee, the turnout in Arab and Druze localities increased by ten percentage points over the figure in April, to 59.2%.

This increase took place in all the Arab population centers—in the north, in the Triangle (central district), in Jerusalem and its environs, and especially in the Negev, where there was the greatest increase as compared with the April elections. There was also a significant jump in turnout among Arab voters in the “mixed” (Jewish-Arab) cities.

The overwhelming majority of Arab voters (81.2%) cast their ballots for the Joint List, which won 13 Knesset seats and matched its historic achievement of 2015. By contrast, there was a significant drop in voting for Jewish parties. Only Blue-White won significant support in Arab localities—the equivalent of one Knesset seat, making it the leading Jewish party in the Arab sector. The Democratic Camp, led by Meretz, lost almost two-thirds of the support that Meretz, running alone, had enjoyed in April.

Voter Turnout

Only five months ago, in the elections for the 21st Knesset, Arab turnout dropped to a historic low of 49.2%. The main reason for this decline was public disappointment with the disbanding of the Joint List about three months earlier, leading Arab voters to respond favorably to a campaign to boycott the elections. The Joint List was reestablished a month after the Knesset was dissolved and early elections called. Arab turnout rose significantly in September, to 59.2%.

Even though the Joint List won 13 Knesset seats, duplicating its historic high of 2015 elections, turnout in Arab and Druze localities remained lower than four years ago. For the population as a whole, turnout increased only slightly, from 68.5% in April to 69.8% in September. In effect, the increase in the national turnout was achieved thanks to the Arab voters. According to estimates based on figures of the Central Elections Committee, the voter participation rate among Jewish citizens has been following a downward curve in recent years—75% in the elections for the 20th Knesset (2015), 72% in the elections for the 21st Knesset (April 2019), and 71% in the elections for the 22nd Knesset (September 2019). Consequently a significant increase in the Arab turnout sufficed for the Joint List to match its performance of 2015. This is so, because the Arabs do not waste their votes on lists that do not make it past the electoral threshold, in effect – giving their votes more weight when it comes time to calculate Knesset seats. Only 1.7% of valid ballots cast in the Arab sector went to lists that failed to pass the electoral threshold; most of them (1.2%) to two Arab lists: Popular Unity and Honor and Equality. By way of comparison, 2.9% of the valid ballots cast in the country as a whole were for lists that failed to pass the electoral threshold.

As in 2015, the Joint List emerged as the third largest faction in the Knesset. Nevertheless, this does not mean that we can conclude that the Arabs “are returning to the Knesset”; at most one can say that this is a “cautious return.” Turnout among the Arabs was only slightly higher than the average for the decade that preceded the establishment of the Joint List (55.4%). The main reason for the higher Arab turnout seems to have been a last-minute reaction to the Likud’s efforts to delegitimize the Arab vote, as well as a response to the intensive efforts by Arab mayors and local council heads, especially the mayor of Nazareth, Ali Salam, urging Arab voters to support the Joint List on Election Day. We should also remember that this time, in total contrast to April, there was no organized campaign to boycott the election. The National Committee to Boycott the Knesset Elections kept silent. From time to time a number of activists of the boycott movement spoke out on the social media to urge people to stay home, but they had no serious impact on the public.

Election Turnout, 1999-2019

Turnout in these elections was higher than in April in all parts of the country in which Arab population centers are located. The largest increase was registered among the Negev Bedouins. For the first time in many years, more than half of the eligible Arab voters in the Negev exercised their democratic right and went to the polls. Activists in the field worked to provide transportation to the polling stations for members of tribes living in remote locations.

A Breakdown of the Voting

An overwhelming majority (81.2%) of Arab voters cast their ballot for the Joint List. The election results indicate that the distribution of support among Arab parties (80%) and Jewish parties (20%) that has been typical of the last decade, continued. This is the figure that is usually revealed in surveys of the Arab sector asking respondents which political body they feel is closest to their own positions, whether or not they plan to vote for it. The results of the recent elections indicate that the conclusion drawn in April that the Arabs were returning to the Jewish parties was mistaken. Arab electoral support for Jewish parties remains steady. Unlike support for the Arab parties, it is hardly affected by political developments within Arab society (such as the breakup or reconstitution of the Joint List) or by ups and down in the relations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Breakdown of Arab vote in Knesset elections, 1999-2019*


* Including lists that did not pass the electoral threshold

The North

The vast majority (77.4%) of voters in the Arab and Druze localities in northern Israel voted for the Joint List. These include the large urban centers, with a traditional Muslim majority that is the focus of Israeli Arabs’ political and national life. In some of the large towns the Joint List won 90% or more of the votes (Arabeh, 97.6%; Tamra, 95.2%; Nazareth, 91.7%; Sakhnin, 89.6%)

There were differences in voting patterns by religion and ethnicity. Based on a sample of four localities, most of the Bedouin (68.3%) and Christians (66.9%), voted for the Joint List, although at a lower rate than the average for the region. There was greater support for the Jewish parties among the Druze (83.8%), and especially for Blue-White, which won almost half their votes (46.0%). Conspicuous among Christian voters was support for Yisrael Beitenu (11.1%), evidently because of the presence of Shadi Haloul, a Christian Arab from Jish, in the eleventh slot on its list (he did not make it into the Knesset). Nevertheless, all groups showed increased support for the Arab parties as compared to the elections in April, especially the Bedouin and Christians, and to a certain extent the Druze as well.

The Triangle

There was overwhelming support for the Joint List in the Triangle (91.0%), similar to the figure of the Arab urban centers in the north. The only Jewish party that won any significant support in the Triangle was the Democratic Camp-- votes attracted thanks to the support for Issawi Frej (Meretz), who is a resident of Kafr Qassem. The turnout in that town was very high (70.3%), and 26% of its vote went to the Democratic Camp. But Frej, number six on the Democratic Camp list, did not make it into the Knesset.

Jerusalem and Environs

The Jerusalem region includes three Arab villages in the Jerusalem Corridor: Abu Ghosh, Ein Naqquba, and Ein Rafa. The Joint List enjoyed solid support here (72.3%), while Blue-White got 12.2 % of the votes.

The Negev

There was a significant increase in voter turnout among the Negev Bedouins as compared to all elections of the past decade; for the first time in many years it exceeded 50%. The Joint List won massive support here, especially among residents of the seven large towns and the Bedouin tribes of the Bedouin residing outside of urban localities. 

The "Mixed Jewish-Arab Cities"

What about Arab residents of the “mixed cities”? To answer this question, polling stations were sampled in every city in which the percentage of votes for the Arab parties was particularly high, and in any case-- higher than the proportion of Arabs in the local population. The results provide an estimate of the turnout rate of the Arab residents. Even if the result is not precise, it provides a comparison with the average turnout for the town or Arab turnout in that town in the past.

This exercise shows that in general, Arab turnout in the mixed cities was lower than that for the city as a whole; but in comparison to the April elections, there was a significant increase in the number of Arabs who went to the polls in all of them. Rates exceeding the figure for the town as a whole were recorded among Arab voters in Ma’alot-Tarshiha and Nof Hagalil (Upper Nazareth), and were even higher than the overall average for Arab localities.

The Arab Parties’ Achievement: April and September 2019

A comparison of the results for the Joint List in September with that of the two Arab parties that ran in April reveals increased support for the Joint List in all three categories of localities: Arab and Druze localities, the mixed cities, and cities all over the country. The last category includes cities like Jerusalem, Beersheba, and Karmiel, which although not designated “mixed cities” by the Central Bureau of Statistics or not considered to be such in the academic discourse about the Arab minority in Israel, are home to significant numbers of Arabs. The Joint List won approximately 4,500 votes in these three cities. Even if we acknowledge that most of the votes for the Joint List in these three cities were cast by Arabs who live there, the Joint List also won significant support in other places that have a mainly Jewish population (about 4,900 votes) and from those who cast their ballots in double envelopes (soldiers and diplomats posted abroad) about 11,800 votes.

Arab parties achievements in Knesset elections: April vs. September 2019

The Jewish Parties’ Results in the Arab Sector

According to the results, the largest Jewish party in the Arab sector is Blue-White. Arab votes provided it with one Knesset seat, a contribution not to be sneezed at, given that the final gap between Blue-White and the Likud was one seat (33 and 32 mandates, respectively).

A look at the Jewish parties’ results in the last two elections finds that Blue-White is the only list that retained support among the Arabs. Meretz, which gained one seat from Arab voters in April, collapsed and lost two-thirds of its support in Arab localities this time, when it ran as part of the Democratic Camp. A slight improvement in support among Arabs can be seen in two parties-- Labor and Yisrael Beitenu. Arab support for the Likud and Shas declined.

For the first time since 2003, the parties on the left—Labor and Meretz—will not have a single Arab or Druze representative in the Knesset. Nor will the Likud have an Arab or Druze member. The new Knesset will have only two Druze members from Jewish parties: Gadeer Kamal-Mreeh (Blue-White) and Hamad Amar (Yisrael Beitenu).


The Joint List reproduced its historic achievement of 2015. Arab citizens did indeed "flock in droves to the polls", although not quite as many as in 2015, and proved that they are a significant force in the Israeli political system. Now the ball is in the Knesset’s court and in the hands of the reconstituted Joint List. Surveys conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute—the Israel Democracy Index, and A Conditional Partnership—indicate that the Arab public has little confidence in the Knesset and in political parties. This time the Arabs are relating to their Knesset representatives with cautious optimism. They are not waiting for an apology for the mistakes of the past; instead, they are anticipating the fruits of efforts in the future. The true test of the Joint List’s Knesset members will be their ability to translate the renewed trust they received from their voters into political fruits that will benefit the Arab community.