February 11th, 2009
09:49 AM ET

Israeli Elections are for Arabs too..

Editor’s Note: Israel’s moderate Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s and her conservative rivals are both claiming victory in Israel’s elections. Exit polls show Livni’s Kadima Party edging out Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party. The polls also show strong support for smaller hardline parties, though. And that could make it difficult for Livni to form a government.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/meast/02/10/israel.elections.polls/art.livni.02.afp.gi.jpg caption="Kadima's Tzipi Livni won more support than was predicted in the Israeli elections. "]

Octavia Nasr
AC360° Contributor
CNN Senior Editor Mideast Affairs

A scan of Arab media shows a region that’s very interested in Israel’s general elections. Here are some of the headlines in Arab newspapers: “Israeli Elections: Between the Right and the Right”, “Hardliners will dictate who wins Israeli polls” and “Exit polls give Livni a narrow lead.”

Israeli elections are leading news shows and online discussions. Residents of the Middle East are curious about the results but have no illusions about the future. The overwhelming majority believes that any Israeli government, new or old, won’t have their interest on its agenda. They do however acknowledge that “some Israeli leaders are worse than others.” As Abdel Wahhab Badrakhan writes in the UAE’s Al-Ittihad newspaper, fundamentalist candidate Avigdor Lieberman “would like to wipe Arabs out, Adolf Hitler style.” Badrakhan and others fear that someone like Lieberman joining the new government coalition will be devastating for all Arabs.

The Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC) is an entertainment network owned by Saudi businessmen but based in the United Arab Emirate of Dubai. It dedicated a segment in its morning show to discuss the Israeli elections from an Arab perspective.

First, the hosts provided the latest information on the race, giving detailed figures and statistics on the role Arab-Israelis play in these elections. Then, the show hosted Aida Touma Sleiman – a candidate running as part of the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality party– she joined the show by satellite from Nazareth. Sleiman explained the intricacies of the elections and how they affect Arab-Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. She also said, “We hope to make it to parliament and have a robust presentation in the Knesset through these elections.”

What is interesting here is that through this one interview, Arabs outside Israel got a reality check on the status of Arabs inside Israel who are politically active and hopeful while realistic about the expectations. According to Aida Touma Sleiman, “Many Arab Israelis are depressed because of Israel’s ugly war on our people in Gaza and they’ve given up hope. But it is very important to understand that their participation in the elections is the only way to bring change about.”

The idea that Israel’s incursion into Gaza last month was part of the political campaign is a recurring theme on Arab media. It is illustrated in yesterday’s political cartoon of the London-based, Saudi-owned newspaper Al-Hayat newspaper. The cartoon shows Israeli jets shooting votes into a ballot box that sits atop a pile of rubble representing what’s left of Gaza.

Across the region, opinions abound summarized in simple words:

The leftist Lebanese newspaper Assafir’s headline reads, “Israel chooses a leader from a pool of three Losers and one Fascist.”

Addustur Newspaper in Jordan has this headline, “Israel elects one of its most racist and extremist governments to date.”

Syria’s Tishreen newspaper opinion piece begins with, “The world waits to see which extremist will lead Israel into the future.”

Another general feeling is compacted in this opinion from Rajab Abu Sariya with the Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam. He writes, “These elections will perhaps consecrate a reality that has become clear in the Israeli political map, that Israel has become a right-wing state par excellence.”

One thing is certain; Israel’s neighbors – Most of them “sworn enemies” of the Jewish state – are paying attention to these elections.

In addition to twelve presidents - most of them not democratically elected or elected for life - the Arab world still has four Kings, three Emirs, and one Sultan. Add to that 67-year-old Moammar Gadhafi, who holds no official title but is referred to as ‘"Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution". File links The following pages link to this file: Muammar al-Qaddafi Categories: Public domain images ... Who needs a title when you’ve ruled a country that you named “Jamahiriya” – That’s Arabic for “State of The Masses” - unchallenged since 1969?

One has to wonder what the Arab masses are thinking right now. No matter what their position on Israel, would they like to hold similar elections themselves? And would they like to choose people to lead them into the future?ast

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Filed under: Arab Affairs • Israel • Octavia Nasr
soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. Mike, Syracuse NY

    Why the quotes around the term 'sworn enemies'? It is true that many Arab governments would like Israel to just cease to exist. Since 1948 some of them have fought 3 wars to achieve that end. To this day, the Hamas charter calls for the destruction of Israel, and the creation of a single Palestinian state consisting of what is now Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank. The Palestinians could have had a state in 1948 if the Arabs had accepted the UN partition that was accepted by the Israelis. By the way, in 1949 after a cease fire was reached, Jordan and Egypt wasted little time gobbling up the West Bank and Gaza instead of allowing the formation of a Palestinian state. It would seem that their fellow Arabs have been as much an obstacle to creating Palestine as the Isrealis.

    February 11, 2009 at 12:46 pm |
  2. Gene Penszynski from Vermont

    Dan Stewart said:
    "The vast majority of Americans are utterly oblivious to the realities of the Israeli-Arab situation. Until the public here becomes more aware of the situation, extremists on BOTH sides will continue to dominate proceedings. Electing a guy like Netanyahu simply plays into the hands of Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran."

    I agree with you Dan. Americans should be able to Clearly see what electing extremists to our own government over the last eight years have done to US. I say NEVER EVER AGAIN ! NEVER EVER AGAIN !!!!

    February 11, 2009 at 12:29 pm |
  3. Amir

    Octavia mentioned that extremists are "elected" in neighboring countries when she said "most of them not democratically elected or elected for life" also, she mentioned Ghadhafi.
    More to the point, the Arab world already knows they'll be confronted by Israel. It's the approach to that confrontation, I think, that they're waiting to know.

    February 11, 2009 at 11:54 am |
  4. Dan Stewart

    The vast majority of Americans are utterly oblivious to the realities of the Israeli-Arab situation. Until the public here becomes more aware of the situation, extremists on BOTH sides will continue to dominate proceedings. Electing a guy like Netanyahu simply plays into the hands of Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran.

    February 11, 2009 at 11:21 am |
  5. Michael "C" Lorton, Virginia

    A complex country with no simple answers.

    February 11, 2009 at 11:06 am |
  6. Joanne, Solvay, NY

    Sure, like Israel is the only country in the middle east that elects(?) extremists...

    February 11, 2009 at 10:31 am |