The whip of the ruling coalition said Saturday that he prefers Israel's Arab citizens not vote in the national election.
"Ninety-five percent of them vote for the Joint List that doesn't represent Israeli Arabs, but Palestinian interests," Knesset member David Bitan told the audience at a public event in Mevaseret Zion, near Jerusalem, referring to Israel's predominantly Arab party.
Bitan was asked for his opinion on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's use of social media, including his Election Day video in which he called on his supporters to vote, warning that the "the Arabs are going to the polls in droves." Bitan, who is considered close to Netanyahu, said: "I'd rather the Arabs won't go to the polls in droves, and won't come to the polls at all."
Netanyahu has been under fire for his Election Day comment. Eighteen months later, he posted a new video on Facebook apologizing to Arab citizens for any offensive comments and urges them to join in Israeli society "en masse."
The head of the Joint List, MK Ayman Odeh, called Bitan "Netanyahu's mouthpiece" and said he "continues to prove that all this leadership has to offer is explicit racism and cheap populism."
"His pathetic daily comment expresses the prime minister's fear of our growing political power," he added.
Isaac Herzog, the chairman of the Zionist Union and the head of the opposition, accused Bitan of calling to take away voting rights from minorities, "just like the top anti-Semites in Europe did in the past to the Jewish people."
"The disease of racism has metastasized in the heart of Israeli society, and is embarrassing both right and left-wing voters," he added.
Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak tweeted: "Bibitan, his master's voice, briefly reveals the truth about the direction in which we are led. It's popular now, but when we go closer we'll see an abyss." Bitan tweeted back: "It's best if you don't preach to us from your cozy home in the U.S."
Joint List MK Yousef Jabareen called for Bitan to be fired for his "racist remarks." "How would the political establishment in France had responded if a senior politician said he'd rather Jews not show up in the polls?" he said.
"David Bitan says what Netanyahu thinks," Meretz lawmaker Issawi Frej said. "This is the true face of a government that isn't interested in democracy… a state in which suffrage and freedom of expression will be reserved only to loyal Jews who can recite King Bibi's slogans."
Bitan was also criticized by a member of his own Likud party, MK Yehuda Glick, who rejected his remarks and said: "I really hope the Arabs will vote. I hope we'll be appealing enough so Arabs will also want to vote Likud."
A recent poll by Channel 2 found that in case of a new election, the Joint List would become Israel's third strongest party with 13 Knesset seats, after Netanyahu's Likud and Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid party.
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