Desperate Netanyahu woos Palestinian-Israeli voters with 'new era' promises despite long history of anti-Arab racism

Desperate Netanyahu woos Palestinian-Israeli voters with 'new era' promises despite long history of anti-Arab racism
The prime minister has previously 'warned' Israeli voters of crowds of Palestinian citizens of Israel heading to the polls.
3 min read
14 January, 2021
Netanyahu is trying to attract Palestinian voters in time for the March 23 election [Getty]
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is hoping to woo Palestinian voters with pledges of a "new era" in which they would become a "fully integrated" part of Israeli society, sparking outrage due to the Likud leader's past "racist" comments about Arab citizens.

The Israeli premier's proposal, given during a campaign rally in the Palestinian-majority city of Nazareth, is likely to fall on unbelieving ears.

Dozens of people protested Netanyahu's speech on Wednesday, the third such visit to a Palestinian-majority city in Israel in the last two weeks. At least 19 were detained.

The long-time prime minister is hoping to gain new support from Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up around 20 percent of the population, in time for the 23 March vote.

Promises of "acceptance" for Palestinians in Israeli society are a far cry from Netanyahu's past electoral rhetoric.

In 2015, the Likud Party leader urged Jewish Israelis to rush out and vote as "Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves". "Left-wing NGOs are bringing them in buses," he claimed.

Electoral turn-out among Palestinian citizens of Israel is historically lower than their Jewish counterparts. 

An overwhelming majority of Palestinian citizens of Israel have in recent years cast their vote for the Joint List, a coalition of mainly Palestinian-Israeli parties.

On Wednesday, Netanyahu sought to assure Palestinian voters that his 2015 comments were not, as many have claimed, "racist".

"My intention was not to warn about the fact that Arab citizens of Israel were voting in an election," he was quoted as saying by Haaretz. "Every citizen of Israel, Arabs and Jews as one, must vote."

Palestinians hit back at 'racist' Netanyahu

The prime minister received the backing of Nazareth Mayor Ali Salam.

"The time has come to believe in these words, that we can truly live side-by-side," Salam told locals.

Ayman Odeh, chairman of the Joint List and head of its largest faction, hit back at Netanyahu.

Netanyahu "thinks that Arabs' memories are even shorter than his memory in his investigations", Odeh said in a tweet referring to the premier's ongoing corruption case.

"He will not succeed in dividing us into good and bad Arabs," Odeh added.

Joint List lawmaker Aida Touma-Sliman described the prime minister's overture as a "miserable attempt to gather votes from a public that Netanyahu has incited against for ages".

Palestinians see Netanyahu as a "threat to Arab society, not a partner in it", she said.

Touma-Sliman and three other representatives from the Joint List reported being shoved by police during the protest against Netanyahu in Nazareth. One of them, Sondos Saleh, said she had been taken to hospital following the alleged attack.

The High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, an umbrella extra-parliamentary organisation representing Palestianian-Israelis, also slammed Netanyahu's visit, describing the prime minister as a "racist inciter".

Netanyahu, on the other hand, described the protests as a "sign of despair" from Joint List members who "see the growing support for me and for Likud in the Arab community".

The right-wing party received just 11,000 votes from Palestinian communities in Israel's last election, according to Likud figures.

Under Netanyahu's stewardship, Israel passed the Nation State law in 2018, downgrading the official status of the Arabic language and stating that only the Jewish people have the right to self-determination in the holy land.

The prime minister has also pledged to annex large swathes of the occupied West Bank whilst also refusing to extend Israeli citizenship to Palestinians living there.

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