Arab Joint List becomes 3rd largest party; pundits say it has Netanyahu to thank

There is a consensus in Israel that the prime minister’s anti-Arab campaign rhetoric boomeranged, leading to the Joint List’s success.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

With 97% of the votes counted, the Joint List is poised to become the third largest party in the Knesset with 13 seats, matching its previous success in 2015’s election. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has only himself to blame, Israeli pundits say.

A jovial Ayman Odeh, who heads the Arab faction, told reporters who greeted him as he left his home on Thursday morning, “Listen, Abu Yair [Benjamin Netanyahu], incitement has a price,” a statement which rhymes in Hebrew.

He mentioned several of the anti-Arab statements the prime minister made in his campaign in order to rouse his supporters, both before and during the vote.

Odeh said, “A prime minister who says, ‘Arabs are surging [to the polls],’ and then ‘The Arabs are stealing [the vote],’ and then, ‘The Arabs want to destroy us,’ and then yesterday, he gives a cry of dismay that ‘the Arabs, the Arabs’ – and what are they doing? Voting!”

Odeh called Netanyahu “the big racist.”

Average Arabs interviewed on the street by media gave two main reasons that galvanized them to head to the polls. One was the fact that the Arab parties, which had split into two rival lists in April, had reunited for the do-over elections. The second was their anger at what they considered the extreme language of the prime minister.

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Odeh may thus have been correct when he talked of the “price” Netanyahu paid, as 63 percent of the Arab public went to the polls on Tuesday, in comparison to only 49 percent who had gone in April.

As the elections ended with neither major party, Likud nor Blue and White, have enough support to form a coalition, one of the scenarios being debated is a national unity government.

This would most probably make Odeh the leader of the opposition.

“We are worthy of leading the opposition,” he said, adding that this would mean that “finally” there would be an active one.

He dismissed concerns that  the position would give him access to Israeli security secrets, despite the fact that his faction contains anti-Zionist elements. He emphasized that it would enable him to meet world leaders and talk to them about issues that the Arab sector is concerned about, such as the Nation-State law and the unrecognized Arab villages in the Negev.

The Joint List is made up of four Arab parties: Balad, Hadash, Ta’al and Ra’am, whose ideologies range from Islamism to communism to Arab nationalism.

Their members are either non-Zionist, believing that Israel should be a state of all its citizens, or are actively anti-Zionist, demanding a Palestinian right of return that would destroy the Jewish state and supporting acts of terrorism as a legitimate means of gaining a Palestinian state in parts of Israel.