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The Potential Big Surprise in Next Week’s Election Could Have an Impact on Israel as the ‘Jewish State’
An Israeli Arab walks past a campaign poster showing Israeli-Arab candidates who are members of a joint list of Arab parties (from L to R), Ahmed Tibi, Jamal Zahalka, Masoud Ghnayem and Ayman Odeh, in Kfar Menda, northwest of the city of Nazareth, on March 8, 2015. General elections in Israel are to take place on March 17. (Photo: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images)

The Potential Big Surprise in Next Week’s Election Could Have an Impact on Israel as the ‘Jewish State’

Next week's Israeli election could pack a big, potentially history-changing surprise, and it’s not about who will be prime minister.

The answer could be found in the four leftwing parties mostly representing Israel’s Arab citizens, and which earlier this year merged to form one party called the Joint List. According to the latest polls, the new party is drawing interest from a huge number of Arab-Israeli voters, some of whom in the past have boycotted voting.

The latest polls put the Joint List as the third- or fourth-largest of the 11 parties expected to be elected to the Knesset, potentially positioning it to decide the winning coalition government.

An Israeli Arab walks past a campaign poster showing Israeli-Arab candidates who are members of a joint list of Arab parties, from left to right, Ahmed Tibi, Jamal Zahalka, Masoud Ghnayem and Ayman Odeh, in Kfar Menda, northwest of the city of Nazareth, March 8, 2015. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images)

The party includes members of Knesset from the communist-leaning Hadash Party and the Balad Party, which opposes Israel as a Jewish state and favors a single-state solution for both Israelis and Palestinians in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.

Balad Party Member of Knesset Hanin Zoabi, a controversial figure in Israel, sailed with the 2010 Gaza flotilla and expressed sympathy with terrorists who kidnapped and killed three Israeli teenagers last summer. On Tuesday, chief party spokesman Raja Za'atra compared the Islamic State group’s atrocities to the 1948 establishment of the State of Israel and asserted that Hamas is not a terrorist group.

An Israeli Army Radio poll published Wednesday predicted the Joint List would secure 12 seats in the Knesset, comprising 10 percent of the parliament. The finding was similar to polls released earlier in the week ranking it as the third- or fourth-largest party.

During the 2013 elections, Israeli Arab voter turnout was 57 percent, according to the Times of Israel, but a new poll released Tuesday from Tel Aviv University’s Moshe Dayan Center found that Arab turnout this year could be as high as 64.7 percent. Of those potential voters, 80 percent said they favored the Joint List.

“Unlike the past, the Arab public believes it can become an effective player in Israeli politics. The trend of decreasing [Arab] voter turnout has probably ended, as a new spirit of optimism prevails,” said Itamar Radai, academic director of the Konrad Adenauer Program for Jewish-Arab Cooperation, which conducted the poll for the university.

Twenty percent of Israeli citizens are Arabs.

Because no single party has ever secured 61 Knesset seats, the majority needed to form a government, the largest party will have to invite smaller parties to join forces. The head of the largest party able to cobble together a coalition of 61 or more becomes prime minister.

Arab parties have never joined an Israeli government, and the Joint List has indicated that that’s out of the question. Following the election, each party will meet with Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin to recommend which party leader should form the next government.

Joint List members have maintained that even though they won’t join a “Zionist” government, they would recommend left-wing Zionist Camp leader Isaac Herzog — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rival — be the next prime minister.

“The Joint List will do everything possible to ensure that Netanyahu will fall,” an unnnamed Joint List source told the Jerusalem Post.

Given the size and clout forecast for the party, the Arab-Israeli minority becoming the Jewish state’s election kingmaker would be an historic development.

Netanyahu’s Likud Party has slammed the possible left-wing government backed by the anti-Zionist Zoabi.

“I don’t think even Herzog would want Zoabi’s support,” Likud Member of Knesset Danny Danon said. “The last thing Israel needs is a government supported by Zoabi.”

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Sunday that there was an “unprecedented” international effort to unseat Netanyahu. One cornerstone of that effort was to increase Arab voter turnout.

The White House in December honored a group dedicated to increasing Israeli-Arab voter turnout. Givat Haviva was asked to create one of four Hanukkah menorahs to be displayed at the annual White House Hanukkah reception.

The Washington Free Beacon reported last month that Givat Haviva was one of the groups included in a confidential strategy memo which revealed that a coalition of U.S.-funded progressive groups was planning a large-scale campaign to encourage Israeli citizens most likely to vote against Netanyahu to get to the polls.

In the memo, Givat Haviva — which has received State Department funding — was tapped to lead the get-out-the-vote campaign among Israeli Arabs, the Free Beacon reported.

The memo was sent by the U.S.-based tax exempt non-profit Ameinu on Dec. 17, the same day as the White House Hanukkah reception.

The Free Beacon reported that the State Department helped Givat Haviva obtain last-minute visas for a delegation of Arab-Israeli mayors to visit the U.S. to learn community organizing and voter-outreach techniques.

Another group aiming to increase Arab and left-wing voter turnout is V15, or Victory 15, which is dedicated to unseating Netanyahu. That group is advised by former Obama campaign strategist Jeremy Bird.

Netanyahu said at an election rally Tuesday that he saw “a real danger” that he might lose next week’s election.

"It's far from being certain, there's a real danger," Netanyahu said.

There are “very powerful organizations with foreign funding … equipped with strategists and advisers, seeking two main objectives: To increase the voter turnout among the Left; and to increase the voter turnout among the Arabs,” Netanyahu said. “These are well-funded organizations that can get the Arab [Joint] List up to 16 seats, thereby determining the overall result of the election.”

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