Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party faced a scalding backlash on Tuesday after it said in a statement that it was concerned by the large numbers of Arab citizens who turned out to vote in the general elections.
In its statement, the Likud party “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 video. “Arab voters are coming in droves to the ballot boxes. Left-wing NGOs are bringing them in buses.”
“We have no V15 movement,” he continued, referring to a group that has been advocating for Netanyahu’s replacement, “We have only a call to arms, and we only have you. Go out to the polling stations; bring your friends and family members. Vote Likud to close the gap between us and the Labor Party.”
== 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 Tuesday, 17 March 2015
Netanyahu’s statements drew sharp rebukes and ridicule from Arab political parties that united to form the Joint List, which is 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.”
Netanyahu later clarified that he had no problem with Arabs exercising the civic duty but rather with foreign entities that were meddling with the elections.
“What’s illegitimate is not Arabs voting as such, but the huge funds from overseas from leftist NGOs and foreign governments bringing them en masse to the polling stations in an organized fashion — and thus warping the actual wishes of the electorate of Israel’s citizens writ large in favor of the left,” he said.
The Hadash party, which is part of the broader Joint List, humorously responded on Twitter to the Likud’s “concern” with a meme 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 giving the warning, “Brace yourselves, the Arabs are voting.”
— תנועת חד''ש (@Hadash_org) March 17, 2015
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.'”
By 4 p.m. local time some 45 percent of the Israeli public had voted, with ballots scheduled to close at 10 p.m.
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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report