Abdel-Hakim Muffed, a spokesman for the Islamic Movement, one of the Arab parties contesting the elections, says: "It doesn't matter for us who wins the elections.

"The main problem is that Israel is classified as a Jewish state and that we are not even recognised as a minority with that state."

Israel often declares that it is an island of democracy in a region controlled by autocrats and kings.
 
Yet, despite Israeli-Arabs numbering 20% of the population, they hold only eight out of 120 parliamentary seats.

They pay the same taxes as their fellow Jewish citizens, but receive less in publicly provided services.

"Our future here will get worse and I believe we are in a critical situation," said Muffed, adding that it is important to give Arab Muslims a chance to elect someone from their community.

The message coming from most of the Jewish Israeli political parties underlines the pessimism many Arabs feel.

Ehud Olmert, the leader of the Kadima party, which is the frontrunner in the election race, is opposed to having an Arab minister in his government.

A candidate for the Arab nationalist Balad party, Azmi bishara, says: "The Israeli political culture has become more racist and less liberal in recent years, and that racism is actually increasing." 

Pragmatic view

But the picture at this election is more complex than simply Jew against Arab.

Kadima – the party launched by Ariel Sharon - is expected to win Knesset seats in four Arab towns, according to opinion polls.  

"Arabs feel that their own situation cannot be dealt with while the Palestinian question remains unresolved"

Amal Jamal,
Tel Aviv University

Despite its negative position towards Arabs, Kadima does offer a potential solution to the conflict with Palestinians with its plan to unilaterally draw Israel's permanent borders, and that may win the party Arab votes, says Amal Jamal, a political science lecturer at Tel Aviv University.

"Arabs feel that their own situation cannot be dealt with while the Palestinian question remains unresolved," he adds.

"They also look at the situation in a pragmatic way. They see the Arab parties as having no influence and want to use their vote to practical effect, and they also vote on other issues such as the economy."

Discrimination

Many Israeli-Arabs feel discrimination in Israel.

A Human Rights Watch report described the education Israeli-Arabs receive as inferior "in virtually every respect".

Arabs have been barred from buying land in their own communities by the government, and their local councils receive a fraction of the state funding given to Jewish areas.

Not all are pessimistic about the future.

Israeli-Arabs are campaigning for equal rights within Israel and working for a resolution of the conflict with the Palestinians.

Nationalist parties such as Balad want Israel to become "a state of all its citizens" and give up its commitment to being a Jewish entity.

Bishara believes that Israeli-Arabs can make progress on these long term goals during this campaign.

"We are using the campaign as an educational tool. We are trying to expand our representation but we are also trying to educate our community about civic ideas. We want to remind people that a vote for Zionist parties is a vote for the oppressor."