Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday apologized to the Arab citizens of Israel for comments he made about their voting turnout on Election Day, which were sharply criticized as being racist and offensive to the community.
“I know the things I said several days ago offended some of Israel’s citizens, hurt the Arab citizens,” Netanyahu told invited representatives of the Arab community at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem. “This was never my intent. I apologize for this.”
The apology was met with enthusiastic applause from the Arab representatives, several of whom embraced him after the statement.
However, the Joint (Arab) List, which swept into the Knesset with 13 seats last week, rejected Netanyahu’s overture and said it will continue to campaign on behalf of the Arab community, Channel 2 reported.
According to a statement from the Joint (Arab) List, “The racism of Netanyahu and his government will not end with the inciting statement that he distributed during the elections.
“Racist legislation and exclusionary, discriminatory policies are Netanyahu’s working plan also for the coming Knesset, so we can only reject his apology and continue our struggle for equality for the Arab population. Likewise the Joint [List] called on Netanyahu to return the mandate that he received on the basis of incitement and intimidation,” added the communique.
Joint List leader Ayman Odeh called the apology a duplicitous “flip-flop.” So long as Netanyahu “advances racist legislation… and does not promote real equality” for Israel’s Arabs, said the incoming MK, the prime minister’s apology would not be acceptable or credible.
In a video published on Netanyahu’s Facebook page on Election Day, the PM said Arab voter turnout was high, in a warning intended to increase voter turnout among supporters of his right-wing Likud faction.
“The rule of the right is in danger, Arab voters are coming in droves to the ballot boxes,” Netanyahu declared in the video. “Left-wing NGOs are bringing them in buses.”
The remarks drew sharp condemnations from Israelis across the political spectrum, including President Reuven Rivlin, as well as from the White House.
Netanyahu said the video was not representative of his record.
“My actions as prime minister, including the tremendous investment in minority communities, prove the opposite. I think, too, that we must never let anyone outside the state of Israel interfere with our democratic process.”
He added that he saw himself “as the prime minister of each and every one of you, all the citizens of Israel, regardless of faith, ethnicity or gender.”
Arab MKs had demanded that Rivlin force Netanyahu to apologize for his remarks and said they would ask Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to recommend that the prime minister be tried for his comments.
Netanyahu and his Likud faction won the election with 30 seats, while main rivals, the Zionist Union, scored just 24 seats.
Starting Sunday, Rivlin began holding consultations with representatives of each political party that won seats in the Knesset to hear their recommendations regarding which party leader is to be given first shot at forming a coalition.
A total of 67 MKs gave their support for Netanyahu to lead the government and Rivlin is expected to formally task him with assembling a coalition later this week.