Arab MKs Not ‘Buying’ PM’s Apology, Boosterism

YERUSHALAYIM -
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at a session of the Knesset on Monday night. (Reuters/Ronen Zvulun)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at a session in the Knesset. (Reuters/Ronen Zvulun)

Arab MKs said Tuesday that they were not convinced by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s apology and appeal to Israeli Arabs to participate more fully in Israeli economic life. In a video distributed in social media in English and Hebrew, Netanyahu on Monday night called on Israeli Arabs to “continue to succeed” and to “take their rightful place in Israeli society.

“Over 20 percent of our citizens are Arabs and you have had some great achievements – producing High Court judges, MKs, world-famous authors, doctors, pharmacists, entrepreneurs, high-tech executives and scientists,” said Netanyahu. “I am proud of the role you are taking in Israeli life. I want you to take an even greater role.”

Opening his appeal by saying “my dear Arab-Israeli citizens” in Arabic, Netanyahu apologized for comments he made days before last year’s election, in which he called on Israelis to come to the polls to vote for him because “they” – understood to mean Arabs – were doing so as well and Jewish votes were needed to counterbalance Arab votes. Netanyahu said he had been misunderstood. “I was talking specifically about a political party,” the United Arab List, and not Israeli Arabs in general, he said. “I know many people were hurt by this, and that is understandable.” Still, he said, the time had come to move forward.

“Moving forward” in this context, said Netanyahu, meant “participating in Israeli society en masse. Work en masse, study en masse, succeed en masse. Israel is strong because of – not despite – the variety and pluralism that typify its society. I am proud of the role you play and I want you to play a greater role.”

Netanyahu’s comments were making headlines in Arabic media throughout the Middle East, Israel Radio said Tuesday, but Israeli Arab MKs are less convinced. MK Ayman Oudeh, head of the United Arab List, said that he was “not buying this demonstration of hypocrisy. I am wondering if this is the same person who has repeatedly stymied economic plans to benefit the Arab sector, the same prime minister who incited voters against us in the elections, and has only gotten worse?

“When I saw that he had prepared an English version of the remarks, I realized exactly where this message was aimed and what its purpose was,” said Oudeh. “My message to Netanyahu, in the name of the Arab public, is that we are not convinced by this display of hypocrisy.”