Rivlin Takes Netanyahu to Task Over 'Arab Droves' Election Day Remarks

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President Rivlin listens to Joint List chief Ayman Odeh (4th from right) in coalition negotiations at president's residence, March 22, 2015.Credit: AFP

President Reuven Rivlin, who is consulting with Israel’s parties about who should form the next government, yesterday criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial Election Day remarks about Arab voters “heading to the polls in droves.”

“The President’s Residence issued a call to all citizens Israel to go out and vote. Everyone must be careful of what they say, particularly those whom the entire world hears,” Rivlin said at his coalition consultation meeting with representatives of the Joint List – the Arab parties and the Arab-Jewish party Hadash.

Rivlin said the campaign had been stormy and “we heard harsh remarks from the Jewish side toward the Arabs. We cannot ignore no less harsh remarks from the Arab side.” Such remarks have no place in a country where people must live as equals, the president said.

Israel is defined as a Jewish state, Rivlin said, but “in the same breath as democratic. I call on the Jews and also on my Arab brethren to avoid incitement. Clearly a statement by a senior individual in the state sounds clearer and sharper than that of another person.”

At this point, MK Basel Ghattas said, “You mean the prime minister.” Rivlin cut him off, saying, “Just a minute, I’ll let you speak.”

Sources in the Joint List said the party intended to lodge a complaint with Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, charging Netanyahu with incitement in regard to his Election Day remarks about Arab voters.

The chairman of the Joint List, Ayman Odeh, told Rivlin that the party was not recommending Netanyahu to form the new coalition.

Odeh and MK Jamal Zahalka said that if the president chose the chairman of the Zionist Union, MK Isaac Herzog, to form the coalition, they would consider supporting Herzog.

Rivlin’s consultations will last two days. Yesterday he met with representatives of Likud, Zionist Union, the Joint List, Habayit Hayehudi, Shas and United Torah Judaism. Today he will meet with representatives of Yesh Atid, Kulanu, Yisrael Beiteinu and Meretz.

Rivlin had indicated that he would encourage the formation of a national unity government. But the results of the March 17 election have made this prospect unlikely since at least 61 MKs, the necessary majority in the parliament, will recommend that Netanyahu form the new coalition.