Rivlin denounces ‘hurtful’ race remarks in elections

As coalition talks get underway, Meretz MK insists president demand Netanyahu apologize for anti-Arab remarks as condition for forming government

Likud party members meet with Reuven Rivlin (center), at the President's Residence, on March 22, 2015. (photo credit: Mark Neyman/GPO)
Likud party members meet with Reuven Rivlin (center), at the President's Residence, on March 22, 2015. (photo credit: Mark Neyman/GPO)

President Reuven Rivlin on Sunday kicked off meetings with party representatives on the formation of a governing coalition, denouncing “hateful” remarks during electioneering and calling for “healing” of Israeli society.

The assembly of party leaders with the ceremonial head of state, who is tasked with tapping one party to form a government, took place five days after the elections. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party won a landslide 30 seats, making him the most likely candidate to be chosen.

“The government which will be formed may have been chosen by a majority of the public, but it needs to accommodate all of the Israeli public: Jews, Arabs, left and right, north and south, center and periphery,” he said.

Rivlin said that Israel underwent a “tempestuous and passion-filled” election campaign, and that “now is the time to begin the process of mending and healing Israeli society.”

Anger has been brewing since the election after Netanyahu called for supporters to go to the polls by citing high Arab voter turnout during the vote, bringing accusations of race-baiting.

Speaking with Joint List leader Aymen Odeh, Rivlin spoke out against the “harsh and hurtful” remarks by both Jewish and Arab candidates during the election season. In the run-up to the elections, a Joint List spokesperson compared Zionists to the Islamic State.

“There is no place for such remarks, no during the elections and certainly not after them,” Rivlin said. “I call on everyone, Jews and Arabs alike, to refrain from mutual incitement and provocation.”

Rivlin noted in a pointed critique of Netanyahu that when, on election day, he himself had urged Israelis to vote, “I called on all Israelis to vote.”

Meretz MK Issawi Freij called on Rivlin to compel Netanyahu to apologize for remarks he made during the election campaign that were disparaging of Israeli Arab citizens on Sunday.

“Netanyahu was not averse from using racism, with words whose aim was to stir up the basic fear of the voters in order to snatch a victory at the polling station, but this victory achieved on the backs of Israel’s Arab citizens,” Freij said. He called on Rivlin to demand that Netanyahu apologize to Israeli Arabs publicly, “and to make that a condition to receiving the mandate for putting together the government.”

“The establishment of a new government without that apology is likely to deepen the division and hatred in Arab society and cause endless problems,” Freij said.

Likud MK Gilad Erdan said party members spoke with Rivlin about Likud’s obligations, “should we form the next government, concerning minorities in the state of Israel.”

MK Yariv Levin said he was sorry the Arab Israeli public “chose a party leader who announced he wouldn’t be in the government. Despite this, we’re committed to form a government which will concern itself with all Israeli citizens.”

The president called on Israeli lawmakers to do “all in their power to complete the coalition negotiations as soon as possible and let the [government] start functioning again.”

Netanyahu is expected to form a government composed of right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties, including the Jewish Home party, Yisrael Beytenu, Shas, United Torah Judaism and possibly Kulanu. Faction leaders representing 61 of the 120 Knesset members are set to recommend that Netanyahu be charged with forming the next government.

Joint List leader Odeh told Rivlin he wouldn’t recommend Netanyahu, Walla news reported, but said that if the president tapped Isaac Herzog as premier he would consider backing the Zionist Union leader.

An unnamed Likud official told Yedioth Ahronoth in Sunday’s paper that the deliberations over forming a government coalition were expected to be “longer and more difficult” than expected.

Kulanu head Moshe Kahlon indicated he would recommend Netanyahu for the premiership and join a coalition, but would likely make significant ministerial demands.

The Kulanu and ultra-Orthodox UTJ parties are jostling for the key Knesset Finance Committee chairmanship, Israeli news site NRG reported.

Kulanu sources said that in addition to leading the Finance Ministry, Kahlon wants the Finance Committee chair, as well as the Housing Ministry.

But UTJ wants former Finance Committee chair Moshe Gafni to return to the post he held from 2009-2013, NRG reported.

The Likud, Zionist Union, Joint (Arab) List, Jewish Home, Shas, and United Torah Judaism party heads are slated to meet Rivlin Sunday, while Yesh Atid, Kulanu, Yisrael Beytenu, and Meretz chiefs will sit with the president Monday.

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