Source:The Daily Beast
JERUSALEM — In Israel’s March 17 parliamentary elections, four mostly Arab parties will run on the same ticket in an effort to secure unprecedented clout for Israel’s 1.7 million Arab citizens, who make up slightly more than 20 percent of the total population.
Analysts are already hailing the vote as historic, and campaigners are hopeful that the unexpected alliance between once bickering, sidelined parties will get young, formerly disillusioned Arab-Israelis out to the ballot boxes and further involved in the national debate.
“We have needs as a people, and as individuals, to deal with the daily problems of discrimination, racism, and this is where you come in,” Ayman Odeh, the charismatic and pragmatic Arab politician who heads the Joint List, tells his fellow Arab citizens.
Personally addressing a group of students gathered around him in the beating sun— girls in hijab, guys in jeans and modified Skrillex haircuts, and a few in t-shirts that read, “Together we are stronger”—Odeh says, alluding to Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech and adds, resolutely, “This is our time to fight.”
Arab parties traditionally have remained on the margins of the Israeli Knesset, and have been in turn largely ineffectual in implementing constructive change in the daily lives of Arab-Israelis. In the 2013 elections, only 57 percent of Arabs voted, compared to the nation-wide rate of 67 percent.
But next week, voter turnout is expected to rise, especially among young Arab-Israelis who prioritize civil rights and integration into Israel over an independent Palestinian state next door.
The Joint List platform has resonated, for instance, with 24-year-old Ejad Eliad, an accounting student from Tamra in northern Israel, who will be voting for the first time next week. During the 2013 elections he was swamped with exams, but, really, like most of his friends and family, simply didn’t think there was much point.
“I think it will be better this time, because of Ayman,” he says. “Since the last elections, the situation has gotten worse for us, especially with the proposal of the ‘nationality law,’” which emphasizes Israel’s Jewish character over its democratic nature, thus further marginalizing Muslim and Christian Arab minorities.
While Arab-Israelis technically have full rights, they say they are treated as second-class citizens, and many say the state increasingly seeks to suppress their freedom of expression.
When Iliana Mohamid, a 24-year-old international relations student from Umm al Fahm peacefully demonstrated against the war in Gaza last summer, she and her friends were attacked violently by security forces. Some of her peers were threatened with expulsion from university because of posts on their Facebook walls expressing sympathy with the people of Gaza.