Israel's Netanyahu promises ministry to first-ever Muslim on Likud list

Israel's Netanyahu promises ministry to first-ever Muslim on Likud list
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced his intention to appoint the first-ever Muslim candidate on the Likud Party list if he were to be elected.
2 min read
06 February, 2021
Netanyahu recently launched a campaign to win over Arab Israelis [Getty]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday he would appoint an Arab Israeli, the first-ever Muslim candidate on the premier's Likud party list, as a minister if the party wins March elections.

"I'm proud that Nail Zoabi, a renowned educator who has given many years to Arab society, is joining the list" of Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party, the premier said in a video on Facebook.

"I will name him minister for the advancement of Arab society in my government," he said, standing alongside Zoabi.

A caption on the video said it would be "the first time that an Israeli Muslim citizen joins Likud".

Several Druze Arabs have served as Likud MPs. 

Netanyahu's announcement coincided with the defection of the Raam movement from the Joint List, a coalition of Arab parties which in the last election in March 2020 had achieved its highest-ever score of 15 seats in the Knesset, Israel's 120-seat legislature.

The conservative Islamic movement's leader Mansour Abbas in December abstained from a vote to dissolve parliament, a move interpreted as a sign of support for Netanyahu and a break with the other Joint List parties.

Netanyahu also recently launched a campaign to win over Arab Israelis, visiting multiple Arab-majority districts in a pre-election overture to a community that has long accused him of racism.

In a polling-day bid to energise right-wing voters in 2015, he warned that Arab Israelis were voting "in droves" and suggested left-wing groups had bussed Arab citizens to polling stations.

In a rare visit to the northern city of Nazareth, the largest Arab city in Israel, Netanyahu promised investment and anti-crime initiatives and apologised for potentially offensive past remarks.

Arab Israelis - Palestinians who stayed on their land following the Jewish state's creation in 1948, and their descendants - make up about 20 percent of the country's roughly nine million people.

According to a survey by the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI), 66 percent of Israeli Arabs see Netanyahu's campaign to seduce them as insincere.

By law, Arab Israelis have rights equal to those of Jewish citizens. But they say that in practice they suffer discrimination in employment, housing, policing and other essentials.

They also point to a 2018 law defining Israel as the "nation state of the Jewish people" and giving Jews a "unique" right to self-determination there.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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