In a move seen as a sign of the country’s changing demographics, Israeli politicians vying for the leadership of the ruling Kadima party are courting Arab voters to win the post of Israel’s prime minister, reported the Telegraph on Friday, August 8.
"We do not want diplomatic stalemate, we want the continuation of the peace process," said Druze leader Majali Wahbe.
"We do not want to be a second Likud party," added Wahbe, a deputy prime minister who spearheads Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s campaign to gain Arab voters.
Four contenders are running for Kadima primaries in September to replace prime minister Ehud Olmert, who will step down next month.
Front-runners include Livni and hawkish Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz.
Candidates have been touring Arab cities to draw Arab voters to their sides during the September vote.
Livni is set to make her second visit to an Arab city this week.
Her contender Mofaz, a former army chief of staff, also painted himself as a "man of peace" by promising to continue peace negotiations with the Palestinians, in an effort to win Arab voters, especially the Druze.
"The division of the Arab vote between Livni and Mofaz could be decisive," said Sammy Smooha, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at Haifa University.
There are 13,000 eligible Arab voters among the 70,000 Israeli voters in Kadima’s voters list.
Last year, Defense Minister Ehud Barak won the Labour party leadership primaries thanks to Arab voters.
Arab MPs said that efforts by the Kadima contenders were nothing but an effort to achieve personal gains.
"Whoever wins in Kadima, the policy towards Arab citizens will be the same: discrimination in all fields," said Jamal Zahlka, an MP from the Arab nationalist Balad party.
Arabs in Israel, known as the 1948 Arabs because they refused to leave their lands following the creation of Israel, are suffering from discrimination in jobs and education.
Poverty rate among Israeli Arabs is almost twice that of Jewish population and they are also suffering high unemployment rates.
Israeli Arabs accused the government of using them as human shields during the second war on Lebanon.
They said Israel had failed to build bomb shelters in their towns and villages as it did in Jewish-majority areas.
Zahlka said Arabs who will vote for Livni or Mofaz will be only doing so for achieving personal interests.
"People do this not because they are convinced by its ideology and policy but rather because they are seeking some interests."