May Israelis Prime Minister Netanyahu

Elections in Israel : Netanyahu is playing the Arab card

Israel's election campaign has a new main character: Abu Yair. “We are all with you, Abu Yair”, promise election posters for the right-wing Likud party in Arabic characters. Above it, a larger than life Benjamin Netanyahu looks into the distance with a determined look.

"Abu Yair" means "Father Yairs", according to the Arabic custom of addressing men as the father of their eldest son. Yair is the son of the Israeli Prime Minister. The posters, to be found in several Arab cities, are part of an unusual campaign that Netanyahu is using to attract Arab voters.

There are parliamentary elections in Israel tomorrow, the fourth in two years. As in the past three rounds of voting, forming a coalition is likely to be difficult: according to surveys, neither of the two party blocs will get a majority.

Netanyahu's Likud remains the strongest force with 30 mandates forecast. But their traditional coalition partners from the right-wing religious spectrum are too weak to get him the necessary majority of 61 seats.

This is one of the reasons why the prime minister is campaigning for the favor of the Arab minority, who make up one fifth of the population - the very same Netanyahu who warned in earlier election campaigns that Arab voters would flock to the polls “in droves”. Now he is touring through Arab cities, meeting their mayors and having his picture taken with tribal elders in Bedouin tents while drinking coffee.

[Every Thursday the most important developments from America straight to your mailbox - with the “Washington Weekly” newsletter from our USA correspondent Juliane Schäuble. Click here to register for free]

The Arab minority wants to exert political influence

Many view the campaign with derision, others with outrage. “The Arab public will not be fooled by Benjamin Netanyahu's sudden interest in our community,” says Yousef Jabareen, member of the Arab party alliance “Common List”.

The amazing thing about the campaign, however, is not so much that it exists - Netanyahu is known for his political agility, especially during election campaigns - but rather that it seems to work: two mandates could give Arab voters to the Likud, more than ever before. says the Arab political scientist Thabet Abu Rass, co-managing director of the Abraham Initiatives, a non-governmental organization.

"More and more middle-class Arabs want to participate in the political process," he explains. And the shortest route to power and influence is through the largest party.

Even if Netanyahu succeeds in convincing a record number of Arab voters, the road to power will remain rocky. In any case, he would have to win the right-wing Yamina party as a partner, the chairman of which, Naftali Bennett, is campaigning hard against the prime minister and which would be dearly paying for a cooperation. "Bennett will have to see what he can get from Netanyahu," says political scientist Gayil Talshir of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

[If you want to have all the latest developments on the coronavirus pandemic live on your mobile phone, we recommend our app, which you can download here for Apple and Android devices.]

Much will depend on who makes the jump over the 3.25 percent hurdle. To the left of the center, several parties are fighting for their parliamentary survival.

But anyway, it is less the classic right-left division that decides on possible alliances than the attitude towards the prime minister: in the anti-Netanyahu camp, right-wing forces such as Tikwa Chadasha (New Hope) and Israel Beitenu (Our House of Israel) can be found, which in some cases Farther to the right than Likud, as are left-wing and Arab parties.

Thousands are protesting against Netanyahu

How controversial the long-term prime minister is became clear again last weekend: tens of thousands gathered in Jerusalem and other cities to demand his resignation. For months now, opponents of Netanyahu have been protesting weekly against the prime minister, who has to answer in court for suspected fraud, breach of trust and corruption.

According to surveys, most Israelis still expect Netanyahu to remain head of government - even if this prospect does not excite everyone. "To be honest," says Aviv Bushinsky, a former advisor to the prime minister, "even in the Likud party, many are waiting for the day after Netanyahu".

Now new: We give you 4 weeks of Tagesspiegel Plus! To home page