Observations on the Israeli Knesset Elections

Low turnout was due in large part to a general sense that Arab MKs lack the power to withstand the discriminatory laws in the Knesset

By Salah Mohsen, Media Director, Adalah

The elections to the 19th Knesset, held on 22 January 2013, brought victory to right-wing parties, which won a majority of seats, though less than in the 2009 elections: Binyamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman’s party, Likud-Beiteinu, settler parties and ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties together took 61 seats. “Center and left-wing” parties gained 48 seats, and Arab/Arab-Jewish parties 11 seats. Overall voter turnout rates rose slightly compared to the last elections, reaching 67.8%, up from 65.2% in 2009.

Perhaps the most significant repercussion of these elections for Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel is the growth of political parties Yesh Atid, led by Yair Lapid, and the Jewish Home party, led by Naftali Bennett. Despite their political differences, these two parties share a common agenda of striving to impose compulsory military or alternative national service on all Israeli citizens, including the ultra-Orthodox and Arab citizens. Both parties likewise emphasize the link between rights and duties. Conditioning rights on the performance of military or alternative national service discriminates against Arab citizens because they are currently exempted from the army and national service for historical and political reasons. Additionally, a majority of Arab citizens have adopted a principle position against military service and all forms of alternative national service.

Turnout rates among Arab voters reached 58%, up from 53% in the previous round of elections. The Arab political parties maintained their presence in the Knesset by winning 11 seats, 4 for the United Arab List – Ta’al, 4 seats for Hadash/Jabha, and 3 seats for Balad/Tajammoa’. While there was a slight increase from 2009 in the voter turnout rate among Arab citizens, it remained lower than the rate among Jewish citizens. Low turnout was due in large part to a general sense that Arab MKs lack the power to withstand the onslaught of racist and discriminatory laws in the Knesset, and that political persecution against them has hindered their parliamentary activities, in addition to some dissatisfaction with their performance.

For example, on the eve of the elections, the Central Elections Committee (CEC) voted to disqualify MK Haneen Zoabi. MK Zoabi was banned from running in the elections until Adalah succeeded to convince the Supreme Court to overturn the CEC’s decision, which it did in a unanimous 9 to 0 decision. At the same time, the trial of MK Muhammad Barakeh is continuing in the Tel Aviv Magistrates’ Court. Adalah is representing MK Barakeh on politically-motivated charges relating to his participation in various demonstrations. Meanwhile, the Nazareth District Court rejected Adalah’s preliminary arguments in defense of MK Sa’id Naffaa, who is facing charges of visiting an “enemy state”, organizing a visit for others to an enemy state, and meeting a “foreign agent”.MK Naffaa faces these charges for organizing a delegation of Arab Druze religious leaders to go on a pilgrimage to holy sites in Syria and Lebanon. Adalah views these proceedings as a continuation of attempts to criminalize the legitimate political activities of Arab citizens of Israel and their elected representatives in the Knesset.