Netanyahu accuses foreign governments of mobilizing left
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Netanyahu accuses foreign governments of mobilizing left

Prime minister walks back controversial statement expressing alarm over high turnout among Israeli Arabs

Lazar Berman is a former breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

An Israeli Arab woman casts her vote at a polling station in the Arab neighborhood of Beit Safafa, in Jerusalem on Tuesday, March 17, 2015 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
An Israeli Arab woman casts her vote at a polling station in the Arab neighborhood of Beit Safafa, in Jerusalem on Tuesday, March 17, 2015 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed foreign governments and NGOs Tuesday for mobilizing left-wing voters, apparently seeking to deflect criticism over a statement he made earlier in the day expressing alarm over the ostensibly high Arab turnout in the election.

He emphasized that he meant to criticize foreign funding, not Arabs voters themselves, in his controversial comments, which critics had lambasted as racist.

“I want to clarify: there is nothing illegitimate with citizens voting, Jewish or Arab, as they see fit,” said Netanyahu in a video statement uploaded to his Facebook page. “What is not legitimate is the funding, the fact that money comes from abroad from NGOs and foreign governments, brings them en masse to the ballot box in an organized fashion, in favor of the left, gives undue power to the extremist Arab Joint List, and weakens the right bloc in such a way that we will be unable to build a government — despite the fact that most citizens of Israel support the national camp and support me as the prime minister from Likud.”

Netanyahu also claimed that Ayman Odeh, the chairman of the Joint List, had pledged his support for the Zionist Union.

“Ayman Odeh, who supports [Zionist Union leader Isaac] Herzog, has already said not only that I must be replaced, but that I should be put in prison for defending the citizens of Israel and the lives of IDF soldiers [during last summer’s war in Gaza]…. A left-wing government that relies on such a list will surrender at every step, on Jerusalem, the 1967 lines, on everything,” Netanyahu railed, “and therefore there’s an immense effort among leftist NGOs to mobilize voters from the left, primarily in the Arab sector, and in areas where leftists vote.”

In his statement, during which he repeatedly called on the public to vote for Likud, Netanyahu lambasted electioneering rules that barred him from broadcasting a press conference.

“Tzipi [Livni], Boujie [Herzog], Yair [Lapid], representatives of the left, spoke in every possible studio and conducted flagrant electioneering,” he charged.

Earlier Tuesday, the Likud party faced a scalding backlash after it said in a statement that it was alarmed by the large numbers of Arab citizens who turned out to vote in the general elections.

In its statement, Likud “expressed concern over the high percentage of voting in the Arab sector” and went on to direct attention to a short video clip uploaded to Netanyahu’s personal Facebook account in which the prime minister lamented the same issue.

“The rule of the right is in danger,” Netanyahu said in the earlier video. “Arab voters are coming in droves to the ballot boxes. Left-wing NGOs are bringing them in buses.”

== שתפו עכשיו ==שלטון הימין בסכנה. המצביעים הערבים נעים בכמויות אל הקלפי. עמותות השמאל מביאות אותם באוטובוסים.לנו אין V-15, יש לנו "צו 8", יש לנו רק אתכם. צאו אל הקלפי, תביאו את החברים ובני המשפחה, הצביעו מחל כדי לסגור את הפער בינינו לבין מפלגת "העבודה".בעזרתכם ובעזרת השם נקים ממשלה לאומית שתשמור על מדינת ישראל.== שתפו עכשיו ==

Posted by ‎Benjamin Netanyahu – בנימין נתניהו‎ on otrdiena, 2015. gada 17. marts

The statements drew sharp rebuke and ridicule from the Arab political parties that united to form the Joint List and are expected to win some 13 seats in the elections.

“Netanyahu is panicking, inciting against Arab voters who are fulfilling their natural and democratic right like any other citizen,” said Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi. He said Likud’s attitude should become a rallying cry for Arab voters.

“Netanyahu and Likud,” Tibi continued, are “scared, and this is why I call on the Arab public to go out to vote in bigger numbers so that Bibi [Netanyahu] continues to panic. Change is afoot.”

The Hadash party, which is part of the broader Joint List, humorously responded to the Likud’s “concern” with an image, posted to its official Twitter account, showing Netanyahu as the character Eddard Stark from the hit TV show “Game of Thrones.”

In place of House Stark’s motto, “Winter is coming,” the image depicted Netanyahu solemnly delivering the warning, “Brace yourselves, the Arabs are voting.”

Wadea Awawdeh, a resident of the Arab town of Kfar Kana, said Netanyahu “cannot hide his racist feelings toward the Arabs” anymore. “Netanyahu is angry because he feels he is losing. It’s another indication he is losing in the elections and losing his patience.”

“No Western leader would dare utter such a racist comment,” said Shelly Yachimovich, No. 3 on the Zionist Union list, which polls say could unseat Likud. Answering a question from a voter on Facebook, Yachimovich said: “Imagine a prime minister/president in any democracy who would warn that his rule is in jeopardy because, for instance, ‘Black voters are coming in droves to the polling stations.'”

Opinion polls in the run-up to the elections showed the Likud party slipping up to four seats behind its main rival Zionist Union, although both parties would each need to piece together a multi-faction coalition to form a majority government.

Polls close at 10 p.m.

Times of Israel staff and AP contributed to this report.

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