White House 'Deeply Concerned' by 'Divisive' anti-Arab Rhetoric During Israeli Election

Coalition negotiations are expected to begin officially next Wednesday, after President Rivlin taps Netanyahu to form the next government.

Tomer Appelbaum

The coalition negotiations are expected to begin officially next Wednesday, after President Reuven Rivlin taps Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form the next government.

Abroad, the White House said it was “deeply concerned” by “divisive rhetoric” that sought to marginalize Israeli Arabs, clearly alluding to some of Netanyahu’s remarks.

The director general of the President’s Residence, Harel Tubi, sent letters to the heads of all the parties that will sit in the Knesset, inviting them to the round of consultations that Rivlin will commence on Sunday.

Netanyahu has not yet appointed a negotiating team. The official contacts have not yet begun, but the prime minister has already spoken with the heads of the parties likely to join the coalition. Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog has already said his slate will not join the coalition. Yesh Atid officials refused to say whether the party intends to join the coalition or sit in the opposition. Likud figures yesterday said the chances of Yesh Atid joining the government were slim.

Likud officials yesterday named the ruling party’s sure-bet partners as Kulanu, Yisrael Beiteinu, Habayit Hayehudi and the ultra-Orthodox parties. A senior Likud official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “We believe Avigdor Lieberman is headed for the coalition, despite messages we have received according to which he might choose to sit in the opposition, presumably in order to rebuild Yisrael Beiteinu after its Election-Day crash.”

Another Likud figure, who also did not want to be identified, said one of the subjects of the preliminary talks with Kulanu chairman Moshe Kahlon was whether to make him finance minister or give him a new economic portfolio that would include responsibility for all the components needed to bring down housing prices - for example, the Israel Lands Administration. That could leave the prestigious finance portfolio in the hands of Likud, presumably to be fought over by ministers Yisrael Katz, Yuval Steinitz and Gilad Erdan.

In Washington, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said, “The Obama administration is deeply concerned by the use of divisive rhetoric in Israel that sought to marginalize Arab Israeli citizens.” The press secretary was alluding to Netanyahu’s comments on Tuesday, when he urged his supporters to go and vote, warning that his rule was in danger because “the Arabs are going out to vote en masse.”

“This rhetoric undermines the values and Democratic ideals that have been important to our democracy and an important part of what binds the United States and Israel together,” Earnest said. “These are views the administration intends to communicate directly to the Israelis.” He added, “Based on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s comments, the United States will reevaluate our position and the path forward in this situation.”