Nazareth Mayor to Israeli Arabs: Give Netanyahu a Chance

Nazareth. Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Flash90
Nazareth (Lior Mizrahi/Flash90)

Israeli Arabs should “give the Prime Minister a chance,” and members of the United Arab List should accept Binyamin Netanyahu’s apology for comments he made about Arab voters during last year’s election, the Mayor of Nazareth, Ali Salam, told Army Radio in an interview Wednesday. “UAL head Ayman Oudeh and the other Arab MKs oppose Netanyahu, but they don’t concern me.

“I have been seeing a change [in Netanyahu]. Let him continue supplying us with funds like he does the Jews, let him talk about true peace, let him sit with [Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud] Abbas and talk peace. I believe in strong people, they are the ones who can bring peace,” he said.

Salam was responding to the comments made by Netanyahu Monday night in a video released on social media, in which he appealed to Israeli Arabs to take a greater role in Israeli society. Netanyahu 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.”

Netanyahu also 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.

Arab MKs were not convinced. Oudeh said that members of his party “were 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?”

But Oudeh should be less judgmental, said Salam. “There is a definite change in the man. We Arabs are equal citizens of Israel and we deserve what we get as citizens. If you provide us with the budgets that we need to take care of our citizens that is a true apology.” Currently being developed by the government is a major funding program for Israeli Arabs, in which tens of billions of shekels will be expended to build infrastructure and provide job training programs in Arab communities. That program is expected to be approved and implemented over the next year.

Salam is known to be at odds with Ayman and Arab MKs. Last October, Salam drove by an event that Arab MKs were conducting in the city, and began shouting at Oudeh, who was being interviewed by Channel Two, to “get out of town, enough of your interviews. Go find something to do somewhere else, you have ruined everything here. Go to Haifa, get out of here!”