Press Release

Experts: Arab Israeli Vote Crucial to Israeli Democracy

MKs, Activists Warn that Drop in Israeli Arab Voting Rate Weakens Legitimacy of Israel's Democratic System


MKs, Activists Warn that Drop in Israeli Arab Voting Rate Weakens Legitimacy of Israel's Democratic System

Sunday, November 25, 2012, Israel Democracy Institute, 4 Pinsker St., Jerusalem – MKs, activists, and scholars warned that a steady decline in voting rates in the Israeli-Arab sector endangers Israeli democracy. They were speaking at a roundtable discussion co-sponsored by the Israeli Democracy Institute (IDI) and the Abraham Fund Initiatives.

Prof. Tamar Hermann, Academic Director of IDI's Guttman Center for Surveys, kicked off the debate with a presentation of research findings on Arab Israeli attitudes towards the state. Despite the recent decline in Arab participation in national elections, she noted that fully 44% of Israeli Arabs say they are "proud" or "very proud" of being Israeli.

Prof. Sammy Smooha, a sociologist from Haifa University who directs the Arab-Jewish Relations Index (a joint project of Haifa University and IDI), pointed out that the 53% turnout of Arab Israelis in the 2009 election was not necessarily low given their alienation from the state. He suggested that raising the electoral threshold to the Knesset would force the Arab parties to unite.

MK Ahmad Tibi, Chairman of the Ta'al party, lamented the declining participation of Arab voters, claiming that it is largely due to "despair, frustration, and nonchalance." He also blamed the government for failing to encourage the Arab vote. Tibi, a Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, said that the Arab vote is crucial to ensuring representation of Israel's minorities, saying they must be encouraged to take part in the electoral process. "Recently, the Government Publications Office has launched a campaign to encourage voting – but it is directed at the Jewish [Hebrew-speaking] public," noted Tibi. "The budget of the Government Publications Office is a public budget, which is supposed to be divided proportionally between the two sectors."

IDI VP of Research Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer warned that a further deterioration in Arab voting rates in the upcoming general elections would lead to a loss of political power in the Arab sector. Noting the crucial role Arab MKs have played in blocking illiberal legislative initiatives in the 18th Knesset, Kremnitzer also cautioned of the dangers of a diminished Arab political presence in the next Knesset. "[I]t is a disgrace that the Zionist parties do not have an agenda for the Arab public.... There are all the reasons in the world to encourage...the Arab vote, as a force to safeguard democracy," said Kremnitzer.

For more information, contact:
Yehoshua Oz
IDI Director of International Communications