'Israel is strong because of our diversity and pluralism — not in spite of it'

Netanyahu calls on Israel’s Arabs to ‘thrive in droves’

In online video, PM disavows controversial Election Day message; Arab MK rejects ‘hypocritical display’

Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu speaks on video to the Arab citizens of Israel, July 25, 2016. (screen capture: Facebook)
Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu speaks on video to the Arab citizens of Israel, July 25, 2016. (screen capture: Facebook)

In a video released Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on Israel’s Arab citizens to take a more active part in society.

In what was seen as an attempt to galvanize his rightist base during the 2015 election, Netanyahu had warned on Election Day in March 2015 that “Arab voters are going in droves to the polls” with the help of “left-wing” activists. A posting on his Facebook page at midday during the balloting said the high turnout by Arab voters was putting right-wing rule “in danger.”

Netanyahu’s latest video, released on YouTube and Facebook in both English and Hebrew versions, began with a reference to his perceived anti-Arab statements on election day. “I apologized for how my comment was misunderstood,” said Netanyahu.

“Today,” he added, “I want to go further.”

“Today I am asking Arab citizens in Israel to take part in our society — in droves. Work in droves, study in droves, thrive in droves.”

Israel’s Arab citizens were part of its success, he said.

“Israel is strong because of our diversity and pluralism — not in spite of it. Over 20% of Israel’s citizens are Arabs. And you have achieved incredible heights: Supreme Court justices, members of parliament, renowned authors, entrepreneurs, high tech business-owners, doctors, pharmacists. I am proud of the role Arabs play in Israel’s success. I want you to play an even greater role in it.”

Netanyahu faced widespread criticism for his Election Day rhetoric, including from Israeli Arabs, US President Barack Obama and American Jewish groups.

In his latest video, Netanyahu said his governments have invested in development in Arab communities. He pledged to continue doing so.

“Arab communities are receiving unprecedented support for public infrastructure, for transportation, for employment, for welfare, for so many other things. And the reason for this is simple. Because your future is our future.”

Netanyahu directly challenged those who advocate anti-normalization. “Jews and Arabs should reach out to each other, get to know each other’s families. Listen to each other,” he said.

The message was rejected by Joint (Arab) List leader Ayman Odeh who called it a “hypocritical display” intended to impress the international community.

“Is this the same prime minister who incited against us during the election and has since then only intensified his inflammatory statements?” Odeh asked in a statement.

“When I saw that you had also chosen to appeal to us in English I realized exactly who this message was meant for and what its purpose was. And so I say to the prime minister in the name of the Arab public that we do not buy his hypocritical display this evening.”

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