United Arab slate thumbs nose at Liberman’s disqualification attempt

After years of engaging in relentless, blatantly racist incitement against the Arab parties, the foreign minister may soon get his comeuppance.

Members of newly announced "United List" of Arab parties in Israel ahead of March 17, 2015 election Photo: Courtesy Balad)
Members of newly announced united Arab slate in Israel ahead of March 17, 2015 election. photo: Courtesy Balad)

Avigdor Liberman, head of the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party and current foreign minister, is trying to get the new unified list of Arab parties disqualified from running in the upcoming elections. According to settler website Arutz Sheva, Liberman’s petition is based on the claim that Balad, one of the parties on the list, supports terrorism.

Liberman’s previous campaigns included a proposal to strip citizenship from Israeli citizens who refused to swear an oath of loyalty to the Jewish state. His 2009 campaign slogans were “Only Liberman understands Arabic,” and “No citizenship without loyalty.”

But while Liberman’s views on Arabs in general and Palestinians specifically are still popular with a significant segment of Jewish Israeli voters, his party has not been polling well at all. According to the most recent polls, he is down from 15 seats to 11 — and he knows that number could decline over the coming weeks. Yisrael Beiteinu’s traditional voter base of immigrants from the Former Soviet Union (FSU) has either died off, emigrated or become apathetic non-voters. Liberman’s strident message tends to be oriented toward security issues, while polls show that Israelis are far more concerned about economic and social justice issues.

There is actually a chance that Yisrael Beiteinu might not win sufficient votes to sit in the next Knesset. Meanwhile, the united Arab slate is polling at between 11 and 15 votes — and their voters are loyal.

The fact is that Liberman has brought this entire situation on himself. It was Yisrael Beiteinu that pushed last year for the passage of a bill that would require political parties to win 3.25 percent of the vote, or a minimum of four seats, in order to take their places in the Knesset (the previous threshold was 2 percent). It escaped no one’s notice that this would have pushed all the Arab parties out of the Knesset, since none of them had more than five seats. The 3.25 percent threshold also means that Hadash, the Arab-Jewish socialist party, would be eliminated, as would small niche parties such as Kadima. At the time, few thought the fractious Arab parties and Hadash would unite to form a single list. But that is precisely what they did, and now they are enjoying a good laugh.

In response to Liberman’s petition to have the slate disqualified from running in the coming elections, the party released the following response (translated from the Hebrew):

It is obvious that this so-called petition is another populist move by the racist Liberman… And it is even more clear that this petition is an expression of the fear that is gripping him as he watches his party crash in the polls in contrast to the United List. We will see the response to the racism of the Right on election day, when the United List wins more than 15 seats in the Knesset.

There is more than a little gleeful Schadenfreude in this response. But Liberman and the far right (as well as Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid) have for years been engaged in relentless, blatantly racist incitement against the Arab parties. They have pursued vendettas against Balad MK Haneen Zoabi, going so far as to sponsor legislation that would have her suspended from Knesset for allegedly offering rhetorical support for Israel’s enemies. Meanwhile, far Right MKs blithely suggest (without repercussions) that killing Palestinian civilians — even children — is correct and just. So to see the man who tried to get them kicked out of Knesset now facing that very fate as a result of the legislation he proposed — well, who can deny them a moment of satisfaction.

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Special Coverage: 2015 Elections