Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has apologized to his country’s Arab citizens for his comments ahead of last week’s elections, saying he did not intend to offend them when he said Israel’s Arabs were voting “in droves” to unseat his government.
“I know the things I said a few days ago hurt some of Israel’s citizens and hurt Israel’s Arabs. I had no intention to do that. I apologize for it,” he said at a meeting with representatives of Israel’s minority communities.
Last week, when polls suggested his party might lose the national election, Netanyahu wrote a Facebook post urging his supporters to come out and vote. It read, in part: “The right-wing government is in danger. Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls. Left-wing organizations are busing them out.”
Netanyahu’s Likud party comfortably won the elections, but his remarks were criticized both inside and outside Israel.
President Obama, in an interview with the Huffington Post, said:
“We indicated that that kind of rhetoric was contrary to what is the best of Israel’s traditions. That although Israel was founded based on the historic Jewish homeland and the need to have a Jewish homeland, Israeli democracy has been premised on everybody in the country being treated equally and fairly. And I think that that is what’s best about Israeli democracy. If that is lost, then I think that not only does it give ammunition to folks who don’t believe in a Jewish state, but it also I think starts to erode the meaning of democracy in the country.”
But in an interview last week with NPR, Netanyahu said he “wasn’t trying to block anyone from voting. I was trying to mobilize my own forces.”
The prime minister added: “I had a meeting 10 days ago with Arab Likud supporters, and we got quite a few votes, by the way, from them. I have invested billions, billions, in my last two governments in trying to close the gaps — social gaps, infrastructure, education — in the Arab communities in Israel. I’m proud that I did that, I’m going to do that again, I’m committed to that. I’m the prime minister of all of Israel’s citizens, Jews and Arabs, alike.”
During the campaign, he also said he opposes the creation of a Palestinian state.
Netanyahu has since walked back those comments, but Obama said: “We take him at his word when he said that it wouldn’t happen during his prime ministership, and so that’s why we’ve got to evaluate what other options are available to make sure that we don’t see a chaotic situation in the region.”