New York Times: Israeli Arabs "Apathetic" About Israel's Elections

The real story here is many Arabs don't feel welcome in Israel, and they don't think the political process will change that.

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The following was originally posted on Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting's blog.

For a variety of reasons, Arab citizens of Israel don't seem all that excited about voting in next week's elections.  And, for some reason, this strike the New York Times' Jodi Rudoren  as "apathy." But the Arab sentiments she reports sure don't sound like apathy.

Under the headline "As Israeli Vote Nears, Arab Apathy Is a Concern,"  (1/17/13), Rudoren writes:

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There are two distinct strains of voter apathy here in what is known as the Triangle, home to many of Israel’s 1.5 million Arab citizens.

The first is familiar to citizens in many democracies. "No one deserves my vote," was how Fayez Najmi, who sells fresh fish from a sidewalk in this town of 20,000, put it. "We don't see any progress or any achievement. We only see the politicians during campaigns."

That doesn't strike me as apathy, really–more like a loss of faith in the ability of the democratic process to represent your concerns. As for the second kind of apathy:

The second is more particular to this community. Nidal Jazmawi, who runs a dry cleaners in nearby Umm Al-Fahm and who has lived his entire life in Israel, said he was abstaining because as part of the Palestinian minority he feels his citizenship is meaningless. "This is not my country," he said. "I don't receive my rights in this state."

That's a more fundamental critique of the state of Israeli democracy, and the feeling that Arabs are not treated as full members of the state of Israel.

There are efforts to encourage more voting ("Several Israeli newspapers have run opinion pieces this week calling on Arabs to vote," readers are told), but there is nonetheless a fear that Arab turnout could dip slightly below 50 percent.

 University of Haifa political scientist As'ad Ghanem conducted a survey of Arab Israelis; as the Times reports:

In Professor Ghanem's survey, 31 percent of those who did not plan to vote said it was because they had no one to vote for, 26 percent said they were not interested in politics and 8 percent each said it was a matter of conscience or their votes did not count. A majority of nonvoters said they would cast ballots if the Arab parties united in a single list. Ibrahim Sarsur, the leader of the United Arab List, said he had tried to join with his rivals for the campaign but decided "they are not mature enough."

Again–that's hard to call apathy. The real story here would seem to be the feeling among many Arabs that they are not welcome, and that the political process will do little to change that.

As Jaime Omar Yassin wrote in Extra! (3/09), Arabs are often erased from the coverage of Israel.  His piece notes, for instance, that in 2009 the Israeli Knesset voted to ban Arab parties from a round of elections until Israeli had declared an end to its attacks on Gaza. That vote was not reported in the New York Times.  And now, on the eve of another round of elections, the Newspaper of Record is telling readers that Arabs are apathetic. There's probably a better word for it.

Peter Hart is the Media Activism Director for Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR).