'Arab voters make no difference,' says Israeli coalition chair

'Arab voters make no difference,' says Israeli coalition chair
MK David Bitan sticks by controversial comments about Palestinian-Israeli voters despite censure from politicians across Israel's political divide.
3 min read
11 December, 2016
David Bitan's comments drew accusations of racism [AFP]

The chairman of Israel's ruling coalition has claimed that it would be "preferable" if Palestinian-Israelis "weren't able to come" to polls because they "make no difference," stirring further controversy in a country where discrimination against minority groups and their politicians is often alleged.

Likud MK Davit Bitan made the goading remark at an event in Jerusalem on Sunday.

"What I'm saying is, if they [Palestinian-Israelis] weren't able to come [to vote], that would be preferable, but it makes no difference; it's not for me to tell them whether to come or not to come [to vote]," Bitan said, accoring to The Times of Israel.

The Moroccan-born MK went on to claim that Palestinian-Israeli parties serve outside interests.

"Ninety-five percent of Arab-Israelis vote for the Joint List, which does not represent the Arabs of Israel but rather Palestinian interests," he added, referring to the coalition of four Arab parties in the Knesset.

Opposition politicians were quick to shoot down Bitan's comments, some of whom called for Bitan's resignation and accused him of racism.

Chairman of the Joint List, MK Ayman Odeh, sarcastically branded Bitan a "great democrat," adding that it was not a surprise to hear such comments coming from him.

"His and the government’s racism is just [something] I engine to increase [Joint List’s] political power," Odeh said.

Meanwhile, opposition leader Isaac Herzog of the Zionist Union went as far as to compare Bitan rhetoric to that heard in Nazi Germany.

"The coalition chairman in the Jewish state calls to deny voting rights to minorities, just as the anti-Semitic leaders of Europe did in the past to the Jewish people,” Herzog said.

For his part, Bitan refused to retract his words, and offered a response that perhaps reflects his strange view on how democratic systems work.

"I do not understand what the fuss is about," Bitan was quoted by The Times of Israel as saying. "No political party wants to see its opponents going to the polls."

Prime Minister Netanyahu, who himself sparked similar controversy when in 2015 he warned Israeli voters that Arabs were heading to polling stations "in droves," reportedly decided against publically condemning Bitan's words.

Palestinian-Israelis make up approximately 20 percent of Israel's population, with 17 currently holding seats in Israel's Knesset. Despite this politicial representation, Israeli politicians and authorities have been repeatedly accused of discriminating and unfairly targeting its Arab population.

In September, 20 members of the Palestinian-Israeli Balad Party were arrested on fraus charges, drawing widespread criticism and accusations of political intimidation against the Israeli state.

In June this year, Palestinian-Israeli lawmaker Hanin Zoabi was hounded by her fellow MKs and branded a "terrorist" after she described Israeli soldiers involved in the 2010 Gaza floatilla killings as "killers".

PM Netanyahu attempted to take legal steps to expel Zoabi form the Knesset, however she still holds her seat today.