Salim Brake, Moshe Dayan Center, November 27, 2019
With permission, read full article at Moshe Dayan Center.
The Druze generally vote on utilitarian considerations, such as voting for parties expected to be included in the coalition and to influence government policy. Few of them vote for ideological motives.
Social networks voiced fierce criticism following two legislative acts that have hurt Druze over the past year: Kaminitz Law and Nation State Law. Despite this, the Druze artificially separated their stance on these laws and voted for parties that supported those laws.
The Blue-White party spoke against the Nation State Law in its current form, and as a result, drew significant support from the Druze community. However, Blue-White is only committed to amending the law and including a clause referencing equality within it, and not eliminating it as Druze hoped.
The increase in support for the “Israel Beitenu” party is due to the fact that the Druze representatives in the Likud are not seen as representing the real interests of the Druze community. In addition, the Druze candidate in the “Israel Beitenu” party expressed opposition to the Nation State Law.
143,000 Druze live in Israel today. 122,000 Druze are concentrated in the Galilee and Carmel regions, and the rest are in the Golan. There are 84,000 Druze with the right to vote. 54,000 of them reside in Druze villages; 26,000 reside in Arab communities such as Peki’in, Mughar, and Abu Sinan, where Druze, Muslims, and Christians live side by side; and the rest live in Jewish cities such as Naharia, Carmiel and Eilat, or in mixed cities like Akko, Ma’alot Tarhisha, Haifa, and Tel Aviv-Yafo. A portion of Druze voters vote through absentee ballots, mainly soldiers and members of the security forces, and as such it is not possible to precisely examine their votes.
This article will examine Druze votes through a comparison of the twentieth, twenty-first, and twenty-second Knesset elections. This study will investigate votes from localities whose population is predominantly Druze, including Arab villages where part of the population is Druze. The study analyzes voting results based on various characteristics that help to properly isolate the Druze vote to a reasonable degree, in order to achieve maximal accuracy in the examination of their voting patterns. However, it is important to note that the most efficient way to examine the Druze vote would be to analyze votes from Druze localities alone. Votes from predominantly Druze communities in the Golan were not examined in this study, as very few voters exercised their right to vote.
In the election cycle for the twentieth Knesset, Druze voter turnout stood at 57.7 percent. Voter turnout was 60.1 percent for the twenty-first Knesset, and it dropped to 54.5% in the twenty-second election cycle, mostly owing to their disappointment in the legislation of the Nation-State Law. The high voter turnout in the elections for the twenty-first cadence is likely due to the mobilization of the Meretz Party, which placed a worthy Druze candidate with a reasonable chance of gaining a seat on its ticket, and due to its undertaking the struggle against the Nation-State Law, which helped it to differentiate itself from right-wing parties and from the Blue-White Party. The Blue-White Party did not commit to repealing the law, but rather vaguely promised to include an article in the law that would guarantee equal civil rights within the realm of individual rights. In light of the results of the elections for the twenty-first Knesset, Druze disappointment grew, and they began to sense that the law would neither be repealed nor amended.
Leveraging the electorate by serving its utilitarian or expedient needs is not a new phenomenon. In the nineteenth century, electoral markets were common and widespread (in countries such as Great Britain, for example) following the expansion of the right to vote by giving it to the masses. Instrumental use of citizens’ votes goes against democratic principles and creates openings for various forms of corruption. It is necessary to wrestle with this phenomenon, yet the need of Zionist parties to have some semblance of inclusion of minorities in their frameworks on the one hand, and the Druze need to improve their social and economic standing on the other, has given way to the entrenchment of this phenomenon by Druze power-brokers, thereby eroding the already limited electoral strength of the Druze population (just 1.3 percent of the general electorate) and weakening them as a group.
In general, the Druze population votes according to practical considerations. For example, they often vote for Zionist parties that will presumably be included in the government and therefor wield influence in it. Sometimes their voting patterns are distinctly instrumental: they vote for a party whose list includes a community or family member who may be able to bestow some kind benefit upon them, or they vote to promote a candidate at the municipal level, or they vote according to the influence of relationships and acquaintances with senior military personnel, and more. Few Druze voters are motivated by ideology.
Since the Knesset elections, right-wing parties have placed their own Druze candidates on their lists for the Knesset who don’t always represent their community’s needs or desires. For example, the Israel Beitenu Party demonstrates open hostility against the Arab minority, and its members have spoken more than once in favor of reducing the number of Arabs in Israel. Even when a Druze representative is included on its list, the candidate is forced upon the Druze, having been chosen by the party and not by the Druze themselves; this in turn leads to damage in Druze relations with their Muslim and Christian neighbors. The Druze sometimes faced embarrassment on the part of such representatives, for example, as with Likud MK Ayoob Kara and his attacks on Arab representatives in the Knesset, or his puzzling insistence on being blessed by rabbis and the like. Some used Druze representatives against Druze interests, as seen in the passing of the Nation-State Law.
Most parties place conditions on the receipt of services or various nominations, both implicitly and directly. For example, when the National Religious Party had control of the Ministry of Education, school directors received appointments according to their family’s contributions to the party. Shas also operated in this manner when it ran the Ministry of the Interior, as have the Likud and Labor parties. In several cases, the national party would strike a deal with a local family. Additional methods that have been used (and are still in use) are civil service appointments and promoting initiatives or services that are intended to advance a specific individual. For example, in 2013 Foreign Affairs Minister, Avidgor Lieberman, nominated the late Professor Na’im Araydeh, a Druze resident of Ma’ar, to serve as Israel’s ambassador to Norway. This move contained a two-fold benefit for Lieberman, enabling him to shake off the image of a racist who hates Arabs while winning the support of the Druze within his party.
The Israel Beitenu Party exemplifies how party wheeler-dealers control the Druze electorate. This particular party espouses significantly racist opinions and views the state’s Arab citizens as true enemies. On more than one occasion, Liberman referred to Arab Knesset members as “terrorists,” even suggesting that its allowable to physically harm them. Yet, the party stationed Druze politico, Hamed ‘Amar, in the Knesset in its service since 2009, and counterintuitive to its rhetoric, currently enjoys the support of the Druze; in the twentieth Knesset elections, the party won a full quarter of the sector’s votes. I spoke with several Druze who voted for the party to understand the ideological factors or values might explain their vote, as Israel Beitenu has been involved in more corruption than any other party to date. I was told that Druze support was owing to the promotion of community member by an Israel Beitenu representative, and that the promotion had served him well. This method of influence also utilizes businesses and other sources of income. For example, a small business owner told me he had turned a sizable profit after a party representative purchased services from him: “When he called me before the elections, I hadn’t forgotten him, and I recruited nearly my entire clan to vote for him, and it’s a very big clan in the village.” Israel Beitenu has gone even farther than this. Hamed ‘Amar established a Druze youth movement within the party, and the organization transfers funds from its budget to various Druze businesspeople in every village. These businesspeople are then transformed into meaningful soldiers on election day.
The elections for the twenty-first and twenty-second Knesset generated a paradoxical situation: the Druze were required to vote against their stated interest and even against the declarations of their representatives in the Knesset. The elections were held after two acts of legislation that greatly impacted the Druze: the amendment of the Planning and Building Law (known as the “Kaminich Ammendment”), and the Nation-State Law.
For more than a year, social networks have been in an uproar against these pieces of legislation, however, the Druze voted for parties which initiated and advanced these laws and supported them in each stage of legislation. The situation rose to such crescendo that Amir Khneifes, the grandson of Sheikh Salih Khneifes, a principle supporter of the Zionist Movement, issued an emphatic verbal attack of the Nation-State Law’s lead advocate, Avi Dichter. Why then did the Druze vote for parties that advanced these laws in such large percentages? (In Shafram, 80% of Druze voted for Israel Beitenu.) It seems that the Druze made a superficial distinction between the Druze MK who had voted against the law in the plenary session – ‘Amar, for instance – and his party, to an extent that seems unreasonable and contrary to logic.
From the twentieth to the twenty-second Knesset elections the number of Druze voters rose by about six thousand. In the twentieth Knesset elections, one quarter of Druze voters voted for Israel Beitenu, which won the highest number of votes. Behind Israeli Beitenu was the Zionist Union, which included the Labor Party and Hatnua Movement. Until that election cycle, the Labor Party had always been first among the Druze population, usually winning between twenty and thirty percent of their votes. Third amongst Druze voters was the Kulanu Party, whose representative, Akram Hasson succeeded to recruit a substantial part of votes from Daliyat al-Karmel and many other villages. The Joint List, whose representative Abdullah Abu Ma’rouf was in a high position on their list (their rotating seating arrangement was not disclosed to the public), won 11.6 percent of the Druze vote. The Likud, with a Druze representative who had been a deputy minister, won 8 percent of the Druze vote, which was even less than Shas (8.6 percent).
Israel Beitenu: This party was the strongest among the Druze population in the twentieth Knesset elections, winning 23.8 percent of its votes. The party’s advantage was the result of concerted and consistent party efforts among the Druze community, as previously stated. Beyond this, the absence of a Druze candidate in a realistic position on the list of other parties aided the decline of the Likud Party.
The party’s power decreased by almost half in the twenty-first Knesset elections, winning only 12.6 percent of the Druze vote. This is partly due to the fact that the party’s Druze candidate did not appear to have a realistic chance of joining the Knesset, according to forecasts that predicted that the party would not pass the mandate threshold. Conversely, the Meretz party placed a Druze candidate in a realistic position on its list, and thus increased Druze support by a large measure, as we shall see. Another reason for the decline in Israel Beitenu’s power was its support of the Nation-State Law.
In the twenty-second elections for Knesset, the party’s power increased in the Druze sector, mainly because Kulanu’s list was absorbed into the Likud, making it impossible to vote for the former. Additionally, the fact the Druze candidate on the Meretz list was pushed back to an unrealistic position returned voters to Israel Beitenu. This time, the polls brightened as it seemed that Hamed ‘Amar, who didn’t serve in the twenty-first Knesset, would return to serve in the twenty-second cadence, and indeed it came to pass. Moreover, ‘Amar succeeded to convince many voters that he would personally fight against the Nation-State Law – which he did – and that they should vote for him despite his party. He partially succeeded and his party received 18.8 of the Druze vote. In ‘Amar’s town of Shafram, the party won 75 percent of the Druze votes, edging out almost every other party. In other Druze localities, such as Peki’in, Rameh, and Usfiyyah, the party won more votes than any other party.
Blue-White: This party, of which three of its members have served as Chief of Staff for the Israeli Defense Forces, caught the attention of the Druze because many of them recognize its leadership because of their service in the army. The party expressed opposition to the Nation-State Law in its current platform and thereby stirred hope that the Druze would gain recognition as equal citizens through the law’s repeal. Despite this, the party’s commitment to the law in principle, to amend it and include within it values of equality, slightly hampered Druze motivation to vote for it. The Druze had hoped for the law’s repeal and not merely its amendment, while the commitment to equality on part of the Blue-White party referred exclusively to individual civil equality and not collective rights. Beyond this, many Druze (as well as Jews of Arab origin) were affected by the nullification of the Arab language’s status as an official state language. Needless to say, the Arabic language is the Druze population’s language of worship, speech, culture, and production.
The forum of Druze military commanders had hoped that Blue-White’s list would include a Druze commander, however, party leader Gantz chose the well-known and outspoken journalist, Ghadir Kamal Mreih, instead. With this move he signaled that he is not obligated to his friends in the military, but to the advancement of the Druze and to making meaningful changes in their community, such as advancing a woman (such as Kamal Mreih) to a leadership position.
In the twenty-first Knesset elections, the party won 36 percent of the Druze vote, and in the twenty-second elections (after Meretz weakened), Blue-White’s support in the Druze sector grew to about half (47.8 percent). In Daliyat al-Karmel the party won 78.1 percent of votes, 69.9 percent in neighboring Ussafiyya, and 51.8 percent in Hurfeish.
The Likud: Although the Likud is in power and although its representative Ayoob Kara was a deputy minister and later a minister, support for the party is rather low. In the twentieth Knesset elections it won only 7.8 percent of Druze votes (as a comparison, the brand new Kulanu party won 18.4 percent). Even in Daliyat al-Karmel, which is Kara’s village, the party won even less support. The party’s strongholds were in Rameh, where Druze businessman Saher Ismail had been appointed adviser to Gideon Saar, as well as in Abu Sinan.
In the twenty-first elections, the party received 11.1 percent of the Druze vote, making it the fourth strongest party in the sector. The Likud’s power rose due to the mobilization of Yarka, whose resident was given a realistic placement on their list, and the mobilization of the town’s neighbor, Kisra-Sumei. The Likud retained its strength in the twenty-second Knesset elections (9.6 percent), even though it led the Nation-State Law and its Druze minister, Kara, supported it against the Druze interest. The reasons for the weakening of the Likud are, as mentioned, its advancement of the Nation-State Law and of Druze party members who were not perceived as representatives with concern for the interests of their community.
Meretz: This party had historically received only one to two percent of the Druze vote. For example, in the twentieth Knesset elections, only two percent voted for Meretz, however, it initiated two important actions in the twenty-first election campaign that increased its power. First, it raised the flag for abolishing the Nation-State Law, and second, it placed an appropriate Druze candidate on a realistic position on its list. These moves led Meretz to win 15.8 percent of the Druze vote, and win 64.8 percent of the vote in its Druze candidate’s hometown of Beit Ja’an. In the next election cycle, when the party pushed its Druze candidate, Ali Salalha, to a lower position on its list, its popularity in the Druze sector shrank to 3.2 percent of the vote.
Shas: While its quite clear that there is no connection between the Shas party and the Druze population, the party nevertheless receives a fair amount of its votes. In the twentieth Knesset elections, 5 percent of Druze voters voted for Shas, and the party earned a similar portion of votes in the twenty-first and twenty-second elections – 4.4 and 4 percent, respectively. Shas won considerable support from Druze in the past due to the mobilization of clans from Yarka, however their power has shrunk by half at present. The party recruits votes through appointments at the Ministry of the Interior and therefor has relatively large power in Ma’ar and Abu Sinan, where Druze from these communities (both formerly high-ranked commanders in the army) were given executive appointments when the Ministry of the Interior was under Shas’ control.
The Joint List: Leading up to the twentieth Knesset elections, the Joint List received 11.6 percent of the Druze vote, mostly from the village of its candidate Abdullah Abu Ma’aruf, a resident of Yarka (in Yarka, 36.9 percent of voters supported the List). At the time, the rotation of the Druze candidate’s seat in the Knesset was not publicized. In the twenty-first Knesset elections, Balad-Ra’am won a negligible amount of Druze votes. Hadash Ta’al, which placed a Druze candidate in a low position on its list and limited his term in their parties’ agreements, won only 2.9 percent of the vote, most of the votes coming from Ma’ar (9.9 percent). In the twenty-second Knesset elections, it was felt that the Druze candidate’s position was unrealistic, and the candidate was not well-known among the Druze, so the Joint List won only 5.6 percent of the vote – much less than the forecasts apportioned them in Druze intellectual discourse. Even in Ma’ar, the village of candidate Jaber ‘Asaqleh, the Joint List received only 12.3 of the vote, less than Israel Beitenu or even Shas.
In conclusion, the Nation-State Law didn’t cause substantial changes in Druze voting trends, in spite of their loud protest. They continued to vote according to classic codes: preference for parties currently in power or with the potential to be in power; preference for parties at the heart of Israeli consensus, and of course preference for fellow villagers and family members, even when a party itself works against the interest of the Druze (as in the case of the Nation-State Law) or doesn’t advance any initiatives on their behalf. Occasionally, people voted for parties with no interest whatsoever in the Druze. For example, in the twenty-second Knesset elections, 342 Druze voted for the Jewish Home party, and 616 for Oren Hazzan (approximately one quarter of voters in the town of Yanuh-Jat). These votes demonstrate the weakening of the Druze, and not only from an electoral standpoint; the Druze are an especially small minority, its electorate is dispersed in an inefficient manner and uneducated in effective political strategies, agreeing to give their votes for the advancement of short-term personal or family gain. Like in elections past, the Druze have not nurtured any party loyalties, perhaps because they have, time and again, found themselves to be the odd man out or even wholly alienated from mainstream political ideologies in Israel.
The following figures reflect the distribution of the Druze vote for the Knesset (Figure 1 – above) and the distribution of votes in selected villages.
Notes on the figures:
- In the twentieth Knesset elections the Zionist Union (composed of the Tnuah and Labor parties) ran. In the twenty-first and twenty-second election cycles, the party campaigned under the name “The Labor Party.”
- In the twenty-first Knesset elections, two lists ran: Balad-Ra’am and Hadash-Ta’al, the parties which composed the Joint list in the twentieth and twenty-second Knesset elections.
- The Kulanu party was absorbed into the Likud in the twenty-second elections.
Alef, A. (2015). The Lieberman File [Hebrew]. Or Yehuda: Kineret-Zamora-Biton.
Eldar, S. (2019). “The Consequences of the Nation-State Law: Violence Against Arab Citizens is Rising” [Hebrew], Al Monitor, 28 October 2019.
Brake, S. (2002). The Challenge of the Strengthening of Right-Wing Parties, Religious Parties, and Immigrant Parties Among the Druze [Hebrew], Doctoral Research Seminar, Haifa: University of Haifa.
Brake, S. (2010). “Motivations of the Druze in Knesset Elections” [Hebrew], in: A. Lavi and A. Rudnitsky (Editors), Politics, Elections, and Local Authority in the Arab and Druze Localities in Israel. Tel Aviv: Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, Tel Aviv University, 2010, pp. 159 – 192.
Brake, S. (2018). “Representation and De-Legitimation in Semi-Democratic Regimes: The Case of the Arab Citizens in Israel,” Sociology and Anthropology, 6(5), pp. 447-458.
Central Bureau of Statistics (2016). “Local Councils: Socio-Economic Rankings 2016 .”
Central Election Committee for Knesset (2019). “The Druze Population in Israel: A Collection of Statistics in Honor of the Pilgrimage of Nabi Shoa’ib” [Hebrew]. Press Release, 17 April 2019.
Khoury, G (2017). “Lieberman on the Confrontations in Wadi Ara: Residents of the Area Should be Boycotted” [Hebrew]. Channel 10, 10 December 2017.
Megiddo, G (2019). “5 Years, 108 Months, 19 Indictments: Everything You Need to Know About the Investigations of Israel Beitenu” [Hebrew]. The Marker, 18 March 2019.
Nir, S. (2017). “Defense Minister of 78% of Israel” [Hebrew]. Davar, 14 March 2017.
Dr. Salim Brake is a lecturer of Political Science at the Open University and at Yazreel Valley College. His research specializations are Israeli-Palestinian relations and Arab and Druze politics in Israel. His recent publications include: The Arabs in Mixed Cities: Comparing Political Aspects [Hebrew]. Haifa: University of Haifa, 2017; A. Ghanem, M. Mostafa, & S. Brake, Israel in the Post Oslo Era, London: Routledge, 2019. He is currently working on two forthcoming books: Characteristics of Knesset Members and the Relationship Between their Function and Results; and The Druze Community in Israel: Social and Political Aspects, a book which is part of a comprehensive study of the Druze in the Middle East entitled Border Minorities in the Middle East: The Druze as a Case Study (Routledge).
 Central Bureau of Statistics, 2019.
 Central Bureau of Statistics, 2016.
 From 1,780 citizens with the right to vote, 314 (17%) of them voted in the twenty-first Knesset elections. The breakdown by party is as follows: Blue-White – 117; Likud – 96; Kulanu – 25; Meretz – 23. The rest voted for other parties. 377 (20%) voted in the twenty-second Knesset elections: Blue-White – 151; Likud – 102; Israel Beitenu – 19; Meretz – 6.
 All data was taken from the Central Election Committee for Knesset’s website.
 Between the two election campaigns, social networks made noise on this issue, and even Druze lawmakers who petitioned to repeal the law began to make unsolicited statements, especially in light of the Likud’s success in the twenty-first Knesset elections.
 Those interested in the Druze vote should see: Brake, 2018; Brake, 2002.
 For more information on this topic see: Brake, 2019; Brake, 2018.
 For more information on conditional state appointments and services in voting see: Brake, 2002; Brake, 2010.
 “Lieberman: We will remove the heads of those who are against us with an ax,” News 2, 8 March 2015; Eldar, 2017.
 In just one of many examples, Lieberman declared there is no reason for Arabs to be citizens of Israel. See: Nir, 2017; Khoury, 2017.
 Since joining politics Avigdor Lieberman has been investigated by the police for various matters. Although he was acquitted, his acquittal was owing to the statute of limitations that resulted from the unreasonable lengthening of the Attorney General’s handling of the matter, and from the refusal of witnesses to testify as well as the disappearance of some. For more information on this subject see: Alef, 2015. His party, Israel Beitenu, is one the most corrupted parties in Israel in terms of the number of incidences and scope of corruption. For further details, see: Megiddo, 2019.
 The Election Committee data referred to herein represents numbers taken from predominantly Druze localities, but not Druze votes from mixed villages and cities.
More at Bayan – The Arabs in Israel
The Druze Vote for the Twentieth, Twenty-First, and Twenty-Second Knesset ElectionsThe Spring’s Back in their Steps: Arab Politics Following the Twenty-second Knesset ElectionsBetween the Rational and the Emotional: Factors Influencing the Political Participation of Arab Citizens in IsraelTo Close the Rifts, Leadership is NeededArab Voting in the 21st Knesset ElectionsEthnoreligious Mixed Marriages Among Palestinian Women and Jewish Men in Israel: Negotiating the Breaking of BarriersExamining Newly-Formed Mixed Arab-Jewish Municipal CoalitionsCivil Trends in Israel’s Arab Society in Light of the “Arab Spring”The 2018 Municipal Elections in Arab Localities: an OverviewYoung Arabs in Israel: Social and Political Attitudes