The country's longest-serving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is making desperate attempts to discourage the country’s Arab-origin citizens from voting in the September 17 poll rerun.
Jewish hardliners reportedly funded an ad campaign targeting the country’s Palestinian-origin citizens and asking them to boycott the April elections, which will be repeated on September 17.
According to Channel 12, the ad campaign funders were all Jewish hardliners with strong connections to "some US-based nonprofit" that focused on suppressing the Arab turnout.
Initially, the ad campaign was thought to be organised by dissident Arab political groups, who refuse to recognise Israel as a state. But Channel 12’s investigation revealed that it’s just another political manipulation orchestrated by Netanyahu’s rightwing allies.
“Someone called me, a Jew with an American accent, and he says to me, ‘I want to do a campaign among the Arabs to boycott the election, to encourage Arabs to boycott the vote,” said the owner of AA Barak Billboards and Advertising, which refused a $71,000 order from a client.
When the company owner asked the client about his motives to launch such a campaign, he stated his desire to suppress the Arab voter turnout.
“There are lots of Arabs that don’t want to vote, and we’re not interested in Arabs voting. I have a very serious amount [of money] — why not take the money and put up the campaign?” the client demanded.
The campaign led by Netanyahu's allies showed significant results in the annulled April poll. In which 15 percent of Arab voters did not vote, decreasing the presence of Palestinian-origin MPs from 13 to 10 in Knesset, the Israeli parliament.
For the upcoming polls, Netanyahu's backers are still haunted by Arab representation, viewing it as a political threat for the longest serving Israeli prime minister.
“This evening it became clear that suppressing our vote is their victory. We won’t let them settle in our ballot stations,” said Ayman Odeh, head of the Arab Joint List party, on Twitter, referring to Channel 12’s report.
“The right is afraid of Arabs, but we are not afraid of the right,” Odeh added.
Netanyahu was not able to form a government after the April elections, partly because a pro-Arab party Balad won two swing seats the Likud leader desperately needed to form a governing coalition.
Odeh’s promise to be part of a moderate coalition government has profoundly shaken the Israeli political convention that Arab parties should stay away from governing, threatening to bring down Netanyahu.
Netanyahu alleged that the country’s Arab citizens, who have been suppressed by Israel for decades in various political and social ways, somewhat “stole” the elections.
If the Arab “fraud” did not happen, the Balad “would not have passed the threshold [to enter the Knesset], and the right-wing bloc would have received 61 seats,” hardliner Netanyahu strangely claimed.
Unable to form a working coalition and embroiled in multiple corruption investigations, Netanyahu is pulling almost all the levers to retain power. His main political weapon is pitting the country's conservative right against the most vulnerable groups, including Israel’s Arab communities.
He's even burned the bridges with one of his ardent billionaire allies from the US, Sheldon Adelson, whose wife apparently had a heated exchange with Netanyahu's corruption-accused wife Sarah in the presence of Adelson. During the dinner table conversation, which turned sour, Adelson reportedly told Sarah that “I lose $40-50 million a year [on Israel Hayom, an Israeli newspaper]. We regularly write in your favor and you keep shouting at me."
Netanyahu is willing to violate human rights norms for his personal political goals. One of his election promises is the complete annexation of the occupied West Bank, a move that will transgress all the established norms of international law and conventions.
On his official Facebook page, Netanyahu even resorted to hate speech. In an attempt to tarnish the image of the opposition parties, he said his political rivals are ready to collaborate with the Arabs “who want to destroy” all Israeli Jews, including “women, children and men.” The remark was perceived as racist and bigoted, compelling the tech behemoth Facebook to suspend the Likud’s use of automated messaging for 24 hours.
To discourage voters from voting in the opposition strongholds, the Likud proposed a law on Wednesday to film voters in polling booths. The party attracted a lot of criticism in the previous election for equipping more than 1,000 Likud officials with body cameras mainly in Arab-populated areas. The aim, as per local accounts, was to intimidate them and keep them away from polling stations.
Israel’s Palestinian-origin citizens represent nearly 21 percent of the country’s population, which corresponds to eight million. More than 80 percent of them are Muslims and have a right to vote, according to the country’s legal system.