Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday engaged in a social media argument with a popular reality TV host who criticized his Likud party’s anti-Arab rhetoric, after Likud Culture Minister Miri Regev in a Saturday TV interview repeated a frequent Likud claim that rival Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz will try to form a government with Arab parties.
In the course of his spat with model and actress Rotem Sela, Netanyahu stressed that Israel is “not a nation-state of all its citizens,” but rather “the nation-state of the Jewish people.”
“What is the problem with the Arabs???” 35-year-old model and actress Sela had written on Instagram. “Dear god, there are also Arab citizens in this country. When the hell will someone in this government convey to the public that Israel is a state of all its citizens and that all people were created equal, and that even the Arabs and the Druze and the LGBTs and — shock — the leftists are human,” she said.
Netanyahu shot back on his own Instagram account: “Dear Rotem, an important correction: Israel is not a state of all its citizens. According to the nation-state law we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people — and not anyone else.
“As you wrote, there is no problem with Israel’s Arab citizens. They have equal rights and the Likud government has invested more than any other government in the Arab population,” he added, but immediately went on to claim, once again, that a Gantz-led government that included the Arab parties would “undercut the state’s security.”
Sela said she received an outburst of fiery comments criticizing her post, and in another post said the “disgusting” responses “will never prevent me from voicing my opinion.”
Regev also responded to Sela, saying: “We have no problem with the Arabs. We do have a problem with hypocrisy and with [Yair] Lapid and Gantz trying with all their might to conceal that fact that they are leftists masquerading as centrists.”
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who leads the New Right party, took issue with Netanyahu’s priorities in choosing to respond to a television presenter while cross-border violence with the Gaza Strip is flaring.
“We are in a period when rockets are falling on southern communities, and I do not understand the logic of attacking a television broadcaster instead of dealing with the real threat — Hamas, which is shooting at our children,” said Bennett, who is jockeying to be appointed defense minister after the elections, and whose party is vying for many of the same voters as Netanyahu’s Likud.
Arab lawmakers came to Sela’s defense and praised her for her “courage.”
“Rotem Sela, we don’t know each other but bravo,” said Hadash-Ta’al chairman Ayman Odeh.
“The very fact that a senior media personality like Rotem Sela needs courage to say Arabs are also humans is a testament to the dark times in which we’re living,” said the party’s No. 2 Ahmad Tibi, who has been a frequent target for Netanyahu’s attacks.
Also on Sunday, the Anti Defamation League lambasted political rhetoric “vilifying” Israeli Arabs.
“The role of Arab parties in the Israeli Knesset is increasingly emerging as a key wedge of the current election campaign, with several party leaders and politicians vowing not to include them in any future coalition, while accusing their political foes of a willingness to do so,” Carole Nuriel, director of the ADL’s Israel office, said in a statement.
AP contributed to this report.