PODCAST: Will Netanyahu’s attempt to suppress the Palestinian vote backfire?

In the lead up to the Sept. 17 elections, Benjamin Netanyahu has escalated his racist incitement against Palestinians. The +972 Podcast talks to Adalah’s Sawsan Zaher about how these attacks are affecting Palestinian voters.

Joint List party leader Ayman Odeh films Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a discussion on the so-called camera law at the Knesset in Jerusalem on September 11, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Joint List party leader Ayman Odeh films Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a discussion on the so-called camera law at the Knesset in Jerusalem on September 11, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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Facebook temporarily suspended Benjamin Netanyahu’s official Facebook page Thursday after followers received a message calling on voters to prevent the establishment of a government with Arabs “who want to annihilate us all.”

Netanyahu said the message was a staffer’s mistake, but as the country prepares for a second national election in the span of six months, he has intensified his racist incitement against Palestinian citizens of Israel. Whereas in 2015, he tried to appeal to his voter base by warning of Arabs going to vote “in droves,” now he is openly accusing Palestinian voters of voter fraud and of “stealing” the elections. There is no evidence that voter fraud is more common among Palestinian citizens.

On Election Day in April, a settler-aligned public relations firm and Netanyahu’s Likud party led a voter intimidation campaign targeting Palestinian voters, placing around 1,300 cameras exclusively in Arab or Arab-majority areas. This contributed to the lowest voter participation rate among Palestinian voters in decades.

“We know for sure that in the April 2019 election the cameras did affect the number of people who went out to vote,” says Sawsan Zaher, deputy general director and an attorney at Adalah, the legal center for Palestinian rights in Israel, on the latest episode of The +972 Podcast.

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For Palestinian voters, who make up 16 percent of the voting population in Israel, the Sept. 17 elections — which, in some ways, are the first following the passing of the Jewish-Nation State Law — are about “survival,” says Zaher. “It’s all the time the struggle of first of all, keeping our voice. Second of all, trying to challenge racist laws and policies. Third of all, trying to keep our voice of calling for equality and the end of the occupation.”

While the Joint List, the slate uniting the four major Arab parties which first ran in 2015, is making a comeback, Zionist parties are also courting Palestinian voters in an attempt to score enough seats to unseat Netanyahu. According to Zaher, this has always been the case. She believes Arabs casting their ballot for Zionist parties is “illegitimate and unjustified.”

“If Netanyahu will be replaced, there will come another Netanyahu, but in different name, shape and face. However you look at it, with the nominees that are [running] now, it doesn’t matter who the person is, we’re talking about a racist system.”

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