WASHINGTON – The U.S. State Department accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party of promoting hatred against Israel’s Arab citizens in its annual human rights report, published on Wednesday.
The report also criticized Likud for placing cameras at polling stations in Arab towns and neighborhoods during the general election in April 2019.
The annual report contains a country-by-country breakdown of important events that impact the human rights situation around the world. This year’s report made headlines because of a semantic change in how it refers to Palestinians who live in East Jerusalem – instead of calling them “Palestinian residents” as in previous reports, they are now “Arab residents” or “non-Israeli citizens,” a move that was criticized by Palestinian leaders.
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However, a deeper read of the chapter devoted to Israel reveals that other parts within it will be less pleasing for the Israeli right wing.
The report includes a subchapter on the rights of minority populations in Israel, as it does for many other countries. In the Israeli case, the government receives compliments for a growing trend of hiring Arab citizens to certain government positions, but there is also a direct reference to actions taken by Netanyahu’s party during last year’s election campaigns, which the report states had a negative impact on equality in Israel.
The report mentions that “In April the ruling Likud Party placed cameras in predominately Arab polling stations in an effort to dissuade Arab voter turnout.” This line refers to a coordinated attempt to scare Arab Israeli citizens, who comprise 20 percent of the country, from heading to the polls during the first of the three elections that Israel has had in the last year.
Two days after the election, the people who orchestrated this effort shared pictures of themselves with Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s official residence on their social media accounts, and took pride in their actions.
“Following the elections, the Central Elections Committee ruled that the placement of recording devices in polling stations is forbidden and would require formal legislation, which the Likud Party was unable to pass in the Knesset,” the report notes. What it doesn’t mention is that the attempt to pass this legislation took place just two weeks before Israel’s second election last year, in September.
While the legislation failed to pass, Netanyahu used it to warn his supported that Arab citizens were going to cheat and “steal” the election.
The report notes that contrary to Netanyahu’s claims, “during the September elections, observers noted minimal irregularities that had no impact on the final outcome.” Netanyahu and Likud did not raise this issue again in the run-up to last week’s election, but following the results, which left Likud and the religious parties short of a majority, Netanyahu accused Israel’s non-partisan Central Election Committee of “stealing the election.”
The State Department report also notes another instance in which Likud promoted anti-Arab messages. “During the April and September national election campaigns, the Likud Party deployed messages promoting hatred against Arab citizens, including a chatbot message on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Facebook page saying, ‘the Arabs want to destroy all of us, women, children and men.’” The chatbot sent this message to hundreds of thousands of Israelis six days ahead of the September 17 election.
At the time, rival politicians criticized him for it and mentioned that thousands of Arab Israeli citizens work as doctors, nurses, paramedics and pharmacists in Israel’s health system. The report notes Netanyahu’s chatbot “was temporarily suspended by Facebook. Netanyahu stated he was unaware of the message.”
Like in previous years, the report criticizes Palestinian terror organizations for launching rockets and carrying out attacks against Israeli citizens. It also criticizes both Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, and the Palestinian Authority for human rights violations, political censorship and attempts to silence critics and journalists. The report mentions “unlawful or arbitrary killings, systematic torture, and arbitrary detention by Hamas officials,” and the serious problem of corruption within the Palestinian Authority.
The report also notes that the last time an election took place in the Palestinian Authority was in 2006, when Hamas won a majority in the now defunct Palestinian parliament, and that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has held onto power despite his term expiring in 2009.
The PA and Hamas are also criticized in the report for “violence and threats of violence targeting LGBTI persons” and “the criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults.”