Top Arab MK rebuffs Netanyahu: We’ve succeeded, no thanks to you

In video response to Netanyahu’s clip, Joint (Arab) List leader demands equal rights, says community doesn’t want to live in ‘racist, occupying’ country

Joint (Arab) List Ayman Odeh releases a video message on his Facebook page on July 26, 2016 (screen capture: Facebook)
Joint (Arab) List Ayman Odeh releases a video message on his Facebook page on July 26, 2016 (screen capture: Facebook)

Joint (Arab) List leader Ayman Odeh on Tuesday said Israel’s Arab community has thrived in many areas — as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared on Monday — but insisted its successes came despite “regular incitement” by the prime minister and endemic “discrimination and deprivation.”

In a video message that appeared to be spoofing Netanyahu’s clip on Monday, MK Odeh said Arab Israelis didn’t want to live as “second-class citizens in a racist, occupying country,” and urged equal rights for all Israeli citizens.

In what was seen as an attempt to galvanize his rightist base during the last 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 on Monday, and with Arabic subtitles on Tuesday, 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.”

In response, Odeh on Tuesday said he watched the prime minister’s video and decided “to also sit down in front of a library” to “convey a message in response in the name of Israel’s Arabs.”

“Like you, I am proud of our exceptional accomplishments, among men and women, who are successful despite the discrimination and deprivation. And despite a prime minister that regularly incites against them, [they] rose to exceptional successes, in all areas of life,” Odeh said.

Odeh said he was “surprised to hear” Netanyahu say he was proud of Arab poets and writers “when you forbid us to study them in school.”

“But in one thing, prime minister, you are correct,” Odeh continued. “We really want to be part of society, but — perhaps I will surprise you now — we don’t want to be second-class citizens in a racist, occupying country. Mr. Prime Minister, we are natives of this place. And all we want is to live in an equal and democratic state that recognizes the civil and national rights of all its citizens. A country in which we will be citizens with equal rights, and we will live with dignity, as partners with the Jewish citizens.”

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 during his various tenures the government has 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.”

But Odeh said in his clip that some 100,000 Arab Israelis whose towns in the Negev are not recognized by the state won’t watch Netanyahu’s video.

“Their homes are simply not connected to electricity,” he said. “They don’t even have running water in their pipes, not to mention an organized educational system, healthcare, or paved roads.”

Netanyahu’s video message was earlier rejected by Odeh on Monday night, calling 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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