Unprecedented Arab Turnout Sparks Election Day Controversy

YERUSHALAYIM -

An unprecedentedly high turnout of Israeli-Arab voters on Tuesday flared into a divisive issue as Prime Minister Netanyahu accused left-wing organizations of “busing them in” to the polls.

As the Arab vote is expected to help Netanyahu’s center-left rivals in the crucial post-election coalition-making, he released a video in which he said: “The right-wing government is in danger. Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls. Left-wing organizations are busing them in. We have no V15, we have Order 8 [code for emergency IDF reserve call up], we have only you. Get out to vote, bring your friends and family, vote Likud in order to close the gap between us and ‘Labor.’”

Later in the day, Netanyahu alleged at a press conference that a deal had been made between Zionist Camp and the Arab parties.

“This is the same list that doesn’t think Hamas is a terrorist organization. This is the party that … Herzog has made an agreement with. A left-wing government dependent on this list will make concessions on Yerushalayim and the ’67 borders,” he declared.

The high turnout among the chronically alienated Arab electorate follows the merging of three rival Arab parties for the first time, a response to this year’s raised threshold for Knesset representation.

Netanyahu’s statement was ironic in light of his frequent comments proudly contrasting democratic Israel’s treatment of Arabs with their oppression under Arab governments in the region. Not surprisingly, it provoked an immediate reaction.

“I know that usually the prime minister in each country encourages the people to go vote. Then why is Binyamin Netanyahu getting scared when the people are voting,” Ayman Odeh, the Arab list’s leader, told The AP in Nazareth. “I say he is right, he should be scared, because he only has a few hours left as a prime minister.”

Zionist Camp leader Herzog said that “those who want a prime minister that cares about his citizens and doesn’t incite or divide must stand up, go out and vote,” calling the prime minister’s panic “embarrassing.”

Meretz chairwoman Zehava Galon commented sarcastically, “Serious warning: Israeli citizens are voting in the elections.”

In the 2013 election, voter turnout among Arabs, who make up 20 percent of Israel’s population, was just 56 percent — three percentage points higher than the previous election in 2009 but considerably lower than the 67.7 percent turnout among all Israeli voters that year.