Coalition chairman David Bitan (Likud) said Saturday he’d prefer that Israel’s Arab population didn’t vote, exacerbating comments made by Benjamin Netanyahu last Election Day for which the prime minister later apologized.
Asked if he’d rather Arabs not vote in the next elections, Bitan replied: “What I’m saying is, if they weren’t able to come (to vote), that would be preferable,” Bitan told a cultural event in the Jerusalem-area town of Mevasseret Zion. “But it makes no difference: It’s not for me to tell them whether to come or not to come (to vote).”
“Ninety-five percent of Arab Israelis vote for the Joint List, which does not represent the Arabs of Israel but rather Palestinian interests,” Bitan also complained. The Joint List is a coalition of three Arab parties that ran together as one Knesset faction (in order to clear the 3.25% threshold for entering the Knesset) in last year’s elections, and won 13 seats.
On election day in March 2015, Netanyahu exhorted his supporters to be sure to go out and vote, since “Arabs are swarming to the ballot boxes, left-wing organizations are driving them there.”
Arab MK Youssef Jabareen (Joint List) said in response to Bitan’s remarks that, “in a normal country, such racist comments would lead to the immediate dismissal of the coalition chairman.”
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) protested that “the coalition chairman in the Jewish state calls to deny voting rights to minorities, just as the anti-Semitic leaders of Europe did in the past to the Jewish people.” Herzog predicted that Netanyahu would stay silent, “while his coalition chief and political ally drafts a new racist platform.”
The Joint List chairman, MK Ayman Odeh, said in response that he was not surprised to discover “that the great democrat [Bitan] prefers Arabs not vote.”
But, Odeh said, “his and the government’s racism is just another engine to increase our political power.”
Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni, who was a Likud lawmaker until leaving the party in 2005, said Bitan’s comments were ironic given the current stance of some members of the government on West Bank settlements.
“While Netanyahu’s Likud is worried about Arab Israelis, the illegal annexation of the West Bank that it is promoting means another million Arabs who live there will demand the right to vote, instead of [seeking] a state,” she said.
Bitan, a freshman MK, has in recent months become a strong ally of Netanyahu, defending him against criticism by the Israeli media, opposition and even coalition MKs.
Asked about a recent penalty he imposed on Benny Begin for voting against a bill to legalize settlement outposts built on privately owned Palestinian land, Bitan said the veteran Likud MK breached coalition discipline.
According to Channel 2, Bitan said Begin, whom he suspended from the Knesset’s Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee for three weeks, “was not elected independently but as part of the Likud faction and that is why he was punished.”
Regarding the controversial legislation, which is expected to be passed by the Knesset in the coming days but is unlikely to make it past the High Court, Bitan said: “If the attorney general does not defend the bill in the High Court of Justice, we will hire lawyers from among those who backed the law in different Knesset committees. We will find alternative phrasing that will allow for the government’s stance on the issue of [illegal West Bank outpost] Amona, and until then we will not submit the bill for its second and third readings.”
The original version of the bill, known as the Regulation Bill, included a clause to retroactively recognize illegal outposts, in a bid to thwart of High Court order to evacuate Amona by December 25.
But the clause was removed following opposition from Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who protested the attempt to overturn the High Court decision on the issue, sending the government scrambling to find a solution that would allow it to avoid evacuating Amona without defying the court. Some Amona residents and supporters have vowed to resist evacuation, and the state is expected to request a stay of demolition of the outpost.
Bitan also explained his recent objection to a bill to increase National Insurance allowances for disabled persons. The bill passed its preliminary vote in the Knesset over coalition objections, bringing veteran Meretz MK Ilan Gilon, who is disabled, to cry with happiness.
“This bill costs the state 7 billion shekels and if it passes we will have to raise VAT by 2%,” Bitan said. “Disabled people should receive allowances according to an examination of their income and not automatically, and therefore this bill needs to pass as a government-drafted law, not a private bill,” he said.