Ex-justice: Netanyahu’s anti-Arab election rhetoric ‘deeply hurtful’

Salim Joubran says ‘unfortunate’ that PM used ‘the Arab issue’ to paint rival Benny Gantz as a weak, unpatriotic and leftist candidate

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Deputy Supreme Court President Justice Salim Joubran attends a ceremony for newly appointed judges at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, on July 20, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Deputy Supreme Court President Justice Salim Joubran attends a ceremony for newly appointed judges at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, on July 20, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Former Supreme Court justice Salim Joubran on Tuesday slammed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claims that his rivals are seeking to forge alliances with Arab parties in a bid to oust him from power, calling the rhetoric “deeply hurtful” to the minority community.

“The prime minister’s statements are unnecessary and unfortunate, and are deeply hurtful to all the country’s Arab citizens,” Joubran told Israel Radio in an interview.

Netanyahu and his allies have repeated the claim that political rival Benny Gantz and others are planning to rely on the backing of Israel’s Arab-majority parties to form a government after April 9 elections, implying that doing so should disqualify them from voters’ support.

Joubran, the first Arab Israeli to serve on the country’s top court as a permanent member, said he was “very disturbed” by Netanyahu’s repeated claims.

“I expected [better] from the prime minister, even if he feels the pressure… he can’t keep falling back on the Arab issue,” he said, recalling Netanyahu’s now-infamous warning to Jewish voters on election day in 2015 about Arabs flocking to polling booths “in droves.”

“Why, what’s wrong? Arabs are citizens of this country. For the time being at least, we’re equal citizens in all respects. We can vote, run for office, and even unite in an electoral bloc. This is all legitimate, there’s nothing wrong with it,” Joubran said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a televised statement after a meeting of his ruling Likud party in Ramat Gan on February 21, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

“You can’t ignore 1.8 million Arab citizens who have every right to organize in parties that represent their interests,” he said. “Why is this constantly coming up? Folks, stop it.”

Joubran, who stepped down in 2017 upon reaching retirement age, headed the Central Elections Committee for the 2015 vote.

Netanyahu has waged a months-long campaign to portray Gantz as a candidate who would usher in a “weak” leftist government with the support of the Knesset’s Arab parties, seen by many on the right as disloyal to the Jewish state.

Last week, Gantz and Yes Atid leader Yair Lapid announced they were joining forces to form the Blue and White electoral alliance, the most credible potential alternative in a decade to Netanyahu’s prime ministership.

TV polls conducted last week indicated the new Blue and White would win more seats than Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party, but would still likely struggle to cobble together a governing majority.

According to separate polls aired by channels 12 and 13, Blue and White would win 36 seats in the election, making it the largest party in the 120-member Knesset ahead of Likud. The polls placed Netanyahu’s Likud between 26 and 30 seats.

After Lapid and Gantz announced the political merger, Netanyahu took aim at the new grouping and accused it of wanting to create a bloc with Arab parties “who do not recognize Israel, and who instead want to destroy it.”

Blue and White party leaders Benny Gantz, left, and Yair Lapid, right, at the new alliance’s unveiling in Tel Aviv on February 21, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

“A Lapid-Gantz government would together with them create a Palestinian state that will extend to the suburbs of Tel Aviv,” he claimed in a speech on Thursday.

On Sunday, Lapid flatly denied Netanyahu’s claims that Blue and White sought to cooperate with Arab parties in its bid for leadership change.

Instead, Lapid said that if his party is tasked with forming the next government, he would attempt to form a coalition with Likud, provided Netanyahu is no longer leading the party.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu has brokered a controversial unity pact between the Jewish Home party and the extremist Otzma Yehudit, in a bid to boost the number of seats held by right-wing parties after the elections, with an eye on his next potential coalition government.

Otzma Yehudit’s leadership is made up of disciples of the American-born Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose Jewish supremacist Kach party was banned under Israeli law for incitement to racism and later declared a terrorist group.

As part of their deal, Netanyahu gave the merged party a seat on his Likud Party’s list of candidates and guaranteed it two cabinet positions if he wins.

Netanyahu’s push for Otzma Yehudit to be a partner in the so-called Union of Right-Wing Parties has been widely condemned by Israeli opposition figures and US Jewish groups, with the pro-Israel AIPAC lobby issuing a rare rebuke in which it called the party “racist and reprehensible.”

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