In Apologetic Message, Netanyahu Urges Arab Citizens to Play a Greater Role in Israeli Society

Prime minister releases videotaped messages in English and in Hebrew, with Arabic subtitles, saluting Israel's diversity. 'Our land is too small, it's too precious to fill it with discord and hate.'

A screenshot from Netanyahu's recent video.
Screenshot/YouTube

Eighteen months after making racist remarks about Arab voters on Election Day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has appealed to Arab citizens in a new video posted on social media.

In the video, the prime minister apologizes anew to Arab citizens for any offensive comments and urges them to join in Israeli society "en masse."

Netanyahu published an English as well as Hebrew-language recordings of his message, with subtitles in Arabic.

Netanyahu apologizes for Election Day remarks.

In the English-language recording, Netanyahu says:

"Before my election, I said Arab voters were going to the polls in droves.

"I was referring to a specific political party but many people were understandably offended. I apologized for how my comment was misunderstood. But today I want to go further.

Netanyahu's Election Day remarks.

"Today I am asking Arab citizens of Israel to take part in our society—in droves. Work in droves, study in droves, thrive in droves," Netanyahu said.

At the beginning of his message, Netanyahu says some words of greeting in Arabic.

The video, featuring Arabic subtitles, was posted on the prime minister’s YouTube channel and on the Facebook page of the Prime Minister’s Office. It was not posted on Netanyahu’s personal Facebook page, which is maintained by Likud.

"Israel is strong because of our diversity and pluralism—not in spite of it," Netanyahu said.

"Over 20% of Israel's citizens are Arabs. And you have achieved incredible heights: Supreme Court justices, members of parliament, renowned authors, entrepreneurs, high tech business-owners, doctors, pharmacists," he added.

"I am proud of the role Arabs play in Israel's success. I want you to play an even greater role in it."

Netanyahu said that his government was investing unprecedentedly large sums in Arab communities, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it is crucial for Israel’s development.  

He also acknowledged that  “significant gaps remain” between the Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel. 

Netanyahu referred to a debate at a Knesset committee chaired by lawmaker Ahmed Tibi of the Joint List, that dealt with crime in Arab communities.

"I will never forget the conversation I had in a Knesset committee with a young Muslim woman. Her husband and sons were gunned down in an Arab town. She was shaking. She begged me, she said, 'Prime Minister, please increase law and order in the community where I live.'

"And this is exactly what we're doing," Netanyahu said.

He went on to say that "yesterday, the government approved legislation that would significantly strengthen public safety for Arab towns and villages. They're yearning to be free from a life of crime and violence.

"My vision is that young Arab boys and girls grow up knowing they can achieve anything in Israel as valued and equal citizens in our democracy.Today I ask you all to join me in this effort," Netanyahu said

"Now, each of us has a role to play," the prime minister said.

"Jews and Arabs should reach out to each other, get to know each other's families. Listen to each other. Jews and Arabs should treat one another with the same dignity and respect you'd want for your own family. Our land is too small, it's too precious to fill it with discord and hate. 

"Let us work together, Arabs and Jews alike, to reach ever higher in the noble pursuit of equality and dignity for all." Netanyahu said.

Tibi said that Netanyahu’s remarks reminded him of an Arab saying, “I hear you and I believe; and then I see your actions and I wonder.” Tibi said the gap in infrastructure between Jewish and Arab towns is enormous and blamed Netanyahu for entrenching these gaps. 

"Netanyahu's appeal is all talk. It’s more spin. The lack of zoning plans and representation in the public sctor and above all Arab citizens are exposed to racism and hatred. They listen to Netanyahu and laugh," Tibi said.

Lawmaker Ayman Oudeh, chariman of the Joint List, said "I ask myself whether this is the same man who has tried with all his might to prevent the economic plan, who has tried to attach more and more conditions until the plan is rendered unimplementable.

"Is this the same prime minister who incidted against us in teh elections and since then has only sharpened his inciting comments? I say to the prime minister in the name of the Arab public that we don't buy his show of hypocrisy," Oudeh said.