Israel president chastises Netanyahu over Arab voter remark
The remark sparked a huge backlash, with Obama phoning Netanyahu to express his displeasure
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday took Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to task over an attempt to ramp up rightwing votes by playing the anti-Arab race card.
In a statement released shortly before he was to publicly task Netanyahu with forming the next government, Rivlin took aim at remarks in which he tried to galvanize rightwing voters by saying Arab Israelis were “going to the polls in droves.”
The remark sparked a huge backlash, with U.S. President Barack Obama phoning Netanyahu to express his displeasure.
“We were fortunate to see a higher voter turnout than the last election. A high voter turnout is the realization of democracy, and a blessing to democracy,” said Rivlin, formerly a veteran member of Netanyahu’s rightwing Likud but also one of Israel’s most outspoken defenders of democracy.
“How awful would it be, if the democratic duty to vote, were to be seen as a curse, or something from which to be warned off?
“One who is afraid of votes in a ballot box will eventually see stones thrown in the streets,” he said.
Voter turnout in the March 17 election reached 72.4 percent, the highest figure in decades.
Among Israel’s Arab minority, who make up a fifth of the population, turnout was over 65 percent, up more than 10 percentage points on the previous election.
On Monday, Netanyahu issued an apology, saying: “I know that the things I said a few days ago hurt Arab Israelis. I had absolutely no intention that that would happen. I’m sorry about that.”
But his words were given short shrift by Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List which groups Israel’s main Arab parties that won 13 of Knesset’s 120 seats, becoming the third largest grouping in parliament.
“His excuses are not acceptable because not only does Benjamin Netanyahu plan to bring in racist legislation but his words challenged the very right of Arab Israelis to vote for the Knesset,” he said.
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