Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu received 67 nominations for prime minister as of Monday, enough to give him the basis for a governing majority.
President Reuven Rivlin confirmed that he would formally designate Netanyahu, following meetings with Yisrael Beiteinu and Kulanu, which brought the total to 67, after Likud, Jewish Home, United Torah Judaism and Shas gave him their support on Sunday.
Meanwhile, fallout from a bitterly fought election continued, as The Joint (Arab) List said it would file a complaint with Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein for alleged incitement and racism. On Election Day, Netanyahu issued a warning to potential Likud supporters that Arab citizens were voting “in droves.” The comment drew outraged reactions from Israeli Arabs, as well as a White House rebuke about the divisive language.
Netanyahu responded to the criticism on Monday evening at a meeting with representatives of minority groups from all over Israel. “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.
He assured them that he saw himself as the prime minister of every one, “without any difference in religion, race, or gender. I see in every Israeli citizen a partner in the building of a flourishing and safe state of Israel for all,” Netanyahu said.
The Joint Arab List rejected the apology as “empty words,” however.
“Sadly, the racism of Netanyahu and his government did not start with this statement and it surely will not be its end,” the party said in a statement.
In his opening consultations with party leaders on the formation of a new government on Sunday, Rivlin called for a “healing process” after what he termed “a turbulent, impassioned campaign.”
Rivlin told representatives of the Arab Joint List, “Everyone must be careful with their remarks, particularly those who are heard around the world,” Haaretz reported.
“We heard Jews say harsh things about the Arab public. We cannot ignore equally harsh remarks from the Arab side. There is no room for such comments. We share one reality in the state in which we all live, and citizens cannot discriminate against one another.”
Rivlin told Likud representatives that the emerging government will have to serve “all the citizens of Israel, Jews and Arabs,” alluding to Netanyahu’s controversial Election Day remarks.
Not suprisingly, Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh declined to recommend Netanyahu, but would not commit to supporting Zionist Union chairman Isaac Herzog either.
“Netanyahu’s behavior makes his tenure as prime minister illegitimate and stands in sharp contrast to what the president himself said, when he called for all citizens to come out and vote,” the delegation charged.
MK Jamal Zahalka said that any government [formed by Netanyahu] would be both dangerous and racist.
Likud chairman Zeev Elkin said that “the election this time around was personal to a great extent with the attempt to say ‘just not Bibi,’ and the public said, ‘yes Bibi.’”
Regarding Arab voters, Likud MK Gilad Erdan said that “we regret the incorrect interpretation of Netanyahu’s comments. Israel is a democratic state, everyone knows that. We are proud of that and of the fact that the Central Elections Committee chairman is an Arab judge.” Netanyahu has explained that he was speaking against the foreign money used to bus the Arab voters to the polls.
By contrast, Rivlin, although a former Likud MK, had only kind words for the losers. In his meeting with Zionist Camp representatives, Rivlin told them, “As we democrats all know, the voter has spoken quite clearly in this election. I congratulate you, the Zionist Camp, on your great achievement. You won a great deal of the public’s faith and will have to speak for them in the Knesset.”
No mention was made of the daily campaign of character assassination carried on in the left-leaning Israeli media against Netanyahu, which headlined one alleged scandal after another while Herzog and Livni were spared such treatment.
In a post-election statement, Herzog and Livni disavowed inciteful remarks made by artist Yair Garbuz at a rally for the their campaign under the banner of “Anyone but Bibi.” At the time, however, no one protested his defamation of the Israeli majority as “mezuzah-kissers and idol worshippers.”
In the days after the election, the Israeli left seethed over the resounding defeat.
In perhaps the most egregious expression of the foul mood, award-winning Israeli author Alona Kimhi wrote: “Drink cyanide, bloody Neanderthals. You won.”
Herzog denounced such attacks. “Attempts to divide, vilify and spread hate in Israeli society disgust me, and it doesn’t matter whether it comes from the right or the left,” he said.