Hundreds of Arab Israelis protested against a visit to their town by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday, accusing his government of racist policies and of enacting legislation that discriminates against Arabs.
Netanyahu hit back at protesters in the northern town of Ein Mahil — where he received a prize for his contributions to the community — saying they should be ashamed of themselves for speaking out against him rather than criticize the slaughter in Syria, Iraq, and Libya.
Netanyahu was invited to receive the honor by Ein Mahil Mayor Walid Abu Layl. During the trip, in which he was accompanied by Housing Minister Yoav Galant, he also signed an agreement for a project to build 600 housing units.
Hundreds of protesters gathered at the entrance to the town, holding aloft banners declaring their support for Fatah, the ruling Palestinian political party in the West Bank, and the Palestine Liberation Organization; and against the prime minister.
“At the entrance, I saw a protest,” Netanyahu said. “They are holding Fatah of the PLO signs. Against my visit here? Against what? What are they protesting against?
“Against the millions who were slaughtered or kicked out of their homes in Syria, Iraq or Libya?” Netanyahu asked, referring to conflicts in those countries in recent years that together have killed some half a million people and displaced millions more.
“Who are you protesting against? Against the only state that protects human rights, that has established a field hospital to help the injured? Against the State of Israel? Shame on you.”
Netanyahu was referring to an IDF operation that brings Syrian war wounded into Israel for medical treatment and also provides some basic humanitarian aid for Syrian residents in areas close to the border.
הפגנה שת תושבי עין מאהל נגד ביקור רה"מ נתניהו לכפר pic.twitter.com/p1iJQXnikn
— sami abed alhamed (@samiaah10) December 28, 2017
Ahead of Netanyahu’s arrival, residents of the town published an open letter explaining why they were against the prime minister’s visit and his being honored.
Ein Mahil, they wrote, “has suffered for decades from a policy of neglect by ensuing governments, and suffered for decades from discriminatory policies by prime ministers, among whom is Benjamin Netanyahu.”
The town, which has some 15,000 residents, “is an integral and inseparable part of the Palestinian people, which is waging a campaign against the occupation and again racist decisions by the government helmed by Benjamin Netanyahu, the same prime minister that during his tenure enacted several racist laws that discriminated against the Arab minority in Israel.”
Claiming the visit was politically motivated due to the corruption investigations into him, the protesters also recalled how Netanyahu had controversially urged Jews to rush to the polls on election day in 2015 because the “Arabs are voting in droves.” He later apologized for the comment.
In 2015 the government approved a NIS 15 billion ($3.84 billion) five-year plan to develop Israeli Arab and other minority communities in an effort to bring them up to par with the general population.
Netanyahu is under investigation in two probes, dubbed Case 1000 and Case 2000.
In Case 1000, Netanyahu and his wife Sara are suspected of receiving illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, most notably hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of cigars and champagne from the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.
Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon “Noni” Mozes that would have seen the prime minister hobble a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.
Netanyahu has been questioned seven times since January in connection with the cases. He has denied wrongdoing in all cases.