From a Community to a Society: Trends in Druze Voting Patterns in the Knesset Elections, 1996–2020

In the new issue of Bayan, which is published on the eve of the 24th Knesset elections, Mahmoud Shanan and Omri Eilat analyze the changes in the voting patterns of the Druze voters from 1996 up to the present, and their historical significance.

Israeli Druze rally against Nation-State Law, 2018. That's Pretty Good from Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 4.0]


The rate of voter turnout in the Druze community has been characterized by a continual downward trend for the past three decades. In deciding whether to vote and which party to vote for, Druze voters take individualistic considerations into account more than collective considerations which are related to the Druze community as a whole.

Like other Druze communities throughout the Middle East, the Druze community in Israel is characterized by a pragmatic approach and political moderation. Therefore, the radical political views that the Arab parties try to promote are unattractive to most Druze voters.

While Labor was the dominant party in the Druze community until 1999, there was no dominant party again until Blue-White in the 2019 elections. The expected collapse of Blue-White in the upcoming Knesset elections will leave a vacuum among the Druze and will lead to a further decline in their rate of voter turnout.

The dispersed voting pattern of the Druze in the elections proves that politically they are not a homogenous community but rather a heterogeneous society.

The voting patterns in Druze society in Israel have changed radically during the past three decades. Although the Druze still vote for parties close to the political center and have not been part of radical political trends, they are currently voting differently than what was commonly observed until the end of the 1990s. An in-depth examination of the quantitative data and the long-term voting trends among the Druze in the Knesset elections shows that the Druze voter supports parties that further the interests he feels are important and in that way he is similar to the Jewish voter. As in the past, he is still guided by considerations related to the status of the community in Israel and its relations with the government, but at the same time—and sometimes to a greater extent—identification with specific candidates and the desire to further personal interests are considerations that he takes into account. This change is reflected in the following trends:

  1. A sharp and consistent drop in the voter turnout of the Druze in Knesset elections;
  2. A transition from loyalty to the Labor party to a dispersion among the various parties that claim to be furthering the interests of Druze society in Israel;
  3. A concentration of voter support for parties in the center of the political map which advocate a pragmatic foreign policy and defense policy, religious tolerance and dispersion of administrative power;
  4. A transition from voting according to ethnic affiliation to voting according to place of residence (as represented by a candidate in a realistic spot on the party list), which translates into a preference for a party that includes a local candidate in its list.

The research is based on a quantitative analysis of the ballot box results in ten local authorities of towns with a Druze majority in Israel: Daliyat al-Carmel, Yarka, Beit Jann, Hurfeish, Kisra-Sumei, Yanuh-Jatt, Peki’in, Julis, Sajur and Ein al-Asad. The percentage of the Druze population in these locations is 95% or higher. The villages of Maghar (proportion of Druze – 57%) and Isfiya (proportion of Druze – 75%) were not included because of the different voting patterns of the relatively large Muslim and Christian minorities living there and due to the inability to differentiate between the ballot boxes with certainty. Towns with a Druze minority, such as Shfar’am, Abu Snan, Rameh and Kfar Yasif, were not included for the same reason.[1]

During the sample period—namely, the past three decades—changes have taken place in the political system in Israel, as reflected in the following processes: (1) A clear division between Right and Left, which at first were differentiated by support or opposition to the peace process and which subsequently were differentiated according to whether one supports or opposes Benjamin Netanyahu; (2) the rise of the “stand-tall generation” among the Arab population in Israel;[2] (3) Druze citizens began integrating more intensively into Israeli society, and their identification with the community weakened while their personal interests became more dominant, as can be seen in, for example, the dismantling of the Herev (Sword) army unit (the operated under the name the "Minorities Unit"  from the creation of the IDF until 2015); (4) the sharp increase in the number of educated Druze women and their entry into the labor force; and (5) the rising standard of living among the Druze. These factors have led to changes in the voting patterns of the Druze during the past generation.

Drop in voter turnout

The main trend in Druze voting patterns in Israel is the drop in voter turnout in Knesset elections. At the end of the 1990s, the rate of voter turnout among the Druze was similar to that of the general population – 76.8% vs 79.3% in 1996 and 78.9% vs 78.7% in 1999. The rate declined in the 2003 Knesset elections both among the Druze (64.2%) and among the general population (67.8%) and in 2006 the voter turnout among the Druze was 64.9% vs 63.2% in the general population. Nonetheless, and in contrast to the general rate of voter turnout, which rose from 2009 until 2015 (while in the three elections during 2019–20 there was a slight decline), the rate among the Druze continued to decline until reaching a low of 53.2% in the September 2019 elections (in contrast to a rate of 69.4% among the general population).

Rate of voter turnout in the Knesset elections among the general population and among the Druze population, 1996–2020

The disappointment with the Israeli political system and the representation of Druze interests within it is due first and foremost to the gradual rise in expectations of Druze voters to a level comparable to the general population. The government ministries tend to neglect the periphery, where all of the Druze towns are located. It can be assumed that as a result young Druze are showing less interest in the political system. Their expectations differ from those of their parents and in view of their ability to integrate within many parts of the Israeli labor market they judge the overall system in a more critical and utilitarian manner. At the same, the phenomenon of “subcontracting of votes” on a family basis is becoming less widespread. As a result, the Druze voter is making his decision according to considerations that are more individualistically oriented, as opposed to the community-collective orientation that was more prevalent in the past.

From the Labor Party to a multiplicity of parties

The identification of Israel’s Druze citizens with the Labor movement began with the alliance formed between the Haganah organization and the Histadrut labor union on the one hand and the Druze leadership on the other already during the Great Arab Revolt in 1936–1939. The minority parties, such as the Democratic List for Israeli Arabs, Kidma ve’Pituah (Progress and Development) and Shituf VeAhva (Cooperation and Brotherhood), often included a Druze member of Knesset (MK) (Jaber Mo’adi or Labib Abu Rukun) during the vast majority of the period between 1951 and 1977. Although the Likud party included Druze MKs starting from 1977 (Amal Nasaraldin and following him As'ad As'ad) and as a result won support in the Druze villages, the Labor party was still the dominant party in the community. In the 1996 elections, it won the largest number of votes in all of the Druze villages apart from Peki’in (in which Labor came in second after Hadash) with the rate of support ranging from one-third to one-half of the total votes.

The collapse of the Labor Party began in the 2003 elections and left the Druze without a political home; nonetheless, their political representation in the Knesset in fact increased due to the renewed competition for their votes and the fact that the Druze shifted their support to new players in the political landscape. Shas (the Sephardi Ultraorthodox) replaced the Mafdal (NRP, National Religious Party) as the strongest religious party as a result of its control of the religious establishment starting from the mid-1990s and as a result of the support for dispersed administration as promoted by Aryeh Deri and Eli Yishai, Shas leaders who served as Minister of the Interior. Following that, Kadima and Yisrael Beitenu added Druze candidates to their lists and achieved a high level of support in the community as a result. In 2006, MK Majalli Wahabi was included in the Kadima list after leaving the Likud. He was included on its list also in 2009 and was joined by MK Akram Hasson (who joined the Kulanu party in the 2015 elections). Hamad Amar joined Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party in the 2009 elections. In those elections, six Druze MKs were elected as part of the aforementioned parties along with candidates from Labor (Shakib Shanan), the Likud (Ayub Kara) and Balad (Said Nafa). Thus, Druze representation in the Knesset reached a peak of six MKs from various parties in the 2006 elections, which exceeded their proportion in the general population.

The demand for Druze representatives was not only in order to win votes among the Druze population. While the Druze representatives indeed attracted votes in the community, the parties also wanted to present a pluralistic list of candidates. The desire for a diversified list was also characteristic of Hadash and Balad and later in the Joint Arab List as well.

Concentration of votes in the political center

As in other Druze communities around the Middle East, the Druze community in Israel is characterized by pragmatism and political moderation, a situation that is reflected in its voting patterns. In general, the terms “Zionist parties” and “non-Zionist parties”, which are used by critics of the sovereign State of Israel, have little relevance among Druze voters. In Druze society there is a stable core of voters which supports the Arab parties which have included Druze candidates in realistic spots (for example, in Hadash: Mohammad Nafa, 1990–92; Abdallah Abu Marouf, 2015–17; and Jaber Asakla 2019–21 and in Balad: Said Nafa, 2007–13). Nonetheless, the political viewpoints promoted by the Arab parties (which make up the Joint Arab List) are unattractive to most Druze voters. The proportion of votes won by the non-Zionist parties rose from 9.58% in the 1996 elections to 17% in the 2013 elections, in which only one Druze representative was elected to the Knesset (Hamad Amar from Yisrael Beitenu). Despite the creation of the Joint Arab List in the 2015 elections, which included the popular Abdallah Abu Marouf from Yarka, the rate of support for the non-Zionist parties fell to 15%, and following its breakup the rate of Druze support for the non-Zionist parties (Hadash-Ta’al and Balad-Ra’am) fell to a low of 3.75% in the elections of April 2019. In the 2020 elections, following the recreation of the Joint Arab List and its intensive elections campaign, its rate of support rose to 11.5%, which is similar to the aggregate proportion of votes won by Hadash, Balad and Ra’am in the 1999 elections.

The downward trend in voter turnout in Druze society as a result of the disappointment with the political system in Israel and the low rate of support for the Joint Arab List are in fact an indication of the tight bond between Druze society and the State of Israel. In sharp contrast to most of the Arab population in Israel, the dilemma of joining the government is not an issue for the Druze. Therefore, in view of the radical messages of the Joint Arab List and its unwillingness to be part of the government, it is not considered to be a relevant option by most Druze voters. The fact that in 2019, following the passage of the Nation-State Law by the Knesset, the support for these parties dropped to a low that had not been seen for at a least a generation is evidence that the political line adopted by the Joint Arab List does not attract the votes of Druze citizens. Peki’in is the only village in which there is a strong and stable stronghold of Hadash, while its strongest rivals are the Likud and Yisrael Beitenu.

The proportion of votes won by the Zionist and non-Zionist parties in the Druze villages

The Nation-State Law—and no less than that the Kamenitz Law—is of far greater concern to most Druze; however, their response in the electoral arena was manifested in their support for the Blue-White Party rather than the Joint Arab List. In the elections held in September 2019, Blue-White won the largest number of votes in all of the villages apart from Beit Jann and Sajur (where it came a close second after Labor) and Peki’in (where it closely followed the Joint Arab List and Yisrael Beitenu). The promise to amend the Nation-State Law and the Kamenitz Law, the positioning of Gadeer Kamal-Mreeh—a young candidate who is not identified with traditional politics—in a realistic spot and the impressive military past of its leaders did not raise the rate of voter turnout, but for the first time since 1999 there was a dominant party among the Druze population. The expected collapse of Blue-White in the upcoming 24th Knesset elections and the resignation of Kamal-Mreeh from political life will create a vacuum for Druze voters, which will lead to an additional decline in voter turnout and will reintroduce the dispersal of votes among the parties that was characteristic of the previous generation.

A shift from voting according to community to voting according to local-municipal representation

The possibility of Druze candidates entering the Knesset based on both their ability to be elected in parties that have adopted models of internal elections (the Likud, Labor, Meretz, Kadima, Hadash and Balad) and their positioning in realistic spots on the lists of parties without an internal democratic process (Yisrael Beitenu, Kulanu and Blue-White) has been an important factor in the diversity of the community’s voting pattern. Almost every party that has positioned a Druze candidate in a realistic position has won the most votes in his home village. Thanks to Salah Tarif, the Labor Party won most of the votes in Julis during the years in which he ran (1996, 1999 and 2003); thanks to Majalli Wahabi, the Likud—and later Kadima—was the leading party in Beit Jann (2003, 2006 and 2009); Balad won support in Beit Jann thanks to Said Nafa, a local resident (2006 and 2009); the Labor party won significant support in Hurfeish thanks to Shakib Shanan (2006 and 2009); Akram Hasson from Daliyat al-Carmel and Salah Saad from Beit Jann delivered sweeping local victories for Kulanu and the Zionist Union in their villages (2015); and Ali Salalha won first place for Meretz in Beit Jann (April 2019).

The only exception is Ayub Kara who did not manage to achieve first place for the Likud in Daliyat al-Carmel. This is explained by the fact that he belongs to a small family in the largest Druze village. The voting in Maghar and Shefaram, two heterogeneous villages, also shows a significant increase in support for parties that placed a Druze candidate in a realistic spot (Yisrael Beitenu – Hamad Amar; Hadash – Jaber Asakla). The most extreme example is Yarka, the second largest Druze village, which went from massive support (more than one-third of voters) for the Joint Arab List (Abdallah Abu-Marouf was elected to the Knesset in 2015) to support of a similar magnitude for the Likud, which had placed Fateen Mulla in its minorities’ spot in the April 2019 elections. The two parties were not even among the top three in the village in elections where the candidates were not included on their lists.

Conclusion and recommendations

The Druze citizens of Israel vote in the Knesset elections according to different considerations than those of the previous generation. Overall, individualistic considerations have become far more important relative to ethnic considerations. Promotion of the interests of the individual, the family and the village are becoming more important relative to matters relating to the entire community, which continue to be relevant but not to the same extent. The decline in voter turnout supports the conclusion that Druze voters are not monolithic. It is reasonable to assume that the bitter disappointment with Blue-White will reinforce this trend and greater dispersion among the parties can be expected, as we saw in the previous generation. Due to the strengthening of democratic awareness among this population, greater effort needs to be invested than in the past in order to convince the Druze to vote for one party or another. In other words, the voting pattern of the Druze show that they are not a community that votes homogenously according to collective considerations, but rather they are a society in which numerous groups and individuals have a clear Druze-Israeli identity but one that is more complex than in the past.

* Mahmoud Shanan is the director of the Druze Heritage Center. He has served in various positions in the defense sector, in government and in public administration.

** Omri Eilat is the director of the Research Institute at the Druze Heritage Center in Israel and teaches in the Department for Middle East and Islamic Studies of the University of Haifa.

*** This article is a condensed version of a larger study carried out by the Research Institute of the Druze Heritage Center in Israel on the voting patterns of Druze citizens in Israel during the past generation. The Druze Heritage Center in Israel began operating in 2019 based on the Druze Heritage Law passed in 2007. It is based in the Druze village of Yanuh-Jatt in the Western Galilee. The Research Institute is currently working to create an archive and a museum that will open on the completion of its permanent building which is currently under construction.

[1] The data on the percentage of the Druze population in these towns were taken from the Knesset website and from the Ministry of Interior website.

[2] The “stand-tall generation” is a term used to refer to members of Arab society who were born in the 1980s and 1990s and who began openly demanding full civil rights from the State following the events of October 2000 and demanding that their national Palestinian identity be recognized. See Danny Rabinowitz and Khawla Abu Baker, The Stand-Tall Generation (Jerusalem: Keter, 2002) [Hebrew].