Netanyahu Stumps for Arab Votes With Promises of Flights to Mecca and to Nix Trump Land Swap

Head of Joint List slams PM for new campaign strategy: 'Only a racist like Netanyahu can think the Arab citizens are stupid enough to forget' previous anti-Arab statements

Netanyahu at the Presidents' Conference on February 16,2020.
Netanyahu at the Presidents' Conference on February 16,2020.Credit: Emil Salman

Dogged by polls predicting yet another electoral stalemate, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has launched an effort to seek votes from Arab citizens for his Likud party.

In recent days he’s been interviewed by Arab media and has posted in Arabic on his Facebook page in an attempt to ease concerns about a proposed territorial swap with the Palestinians. This swap would see some Israeli Arab towns becoming part of a Palestinian state as envisaged by Trump's so-called ''deal of the century.''

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 63Credit: Haaretz

In an interview to the Panet website ahead of the March 2 election, Netanyahu said in reference to the clause dealing with the swap: “The last thing I believe in is in uprooting anyone from their home. No one will be uprooted. There is no such a thing in the ‘deal of the century.’ It contains a meaningless remark that has no significance."

The premier then added: “It won’t happen. It’s a trial balloon being inflated as part of an effort to get people to vote for the Joint List.”

Another of Netanyahu's main messages was about the efforts he was making to launch direct flights from Israel to Mecca. This is a declaration that so far has slim chances of materializing, since it requires reaching an understanding with Saudi Arabia and so far no such discussions about it have taken place.

Netanyahu and Likud campaign strategist MK Miki Zohar in the Knesset, November 2019.Credit: Emil Salman

Coalition chairman MK Miki Zohar (Likud) told Haaretz that the idea for the direct flights was his initiative, which he had proposed to the prime minister. Zohar said that flight packages to Mecca can cost up to 30,000 shekels ($8,800), so that such an agreement with Saudi Arabia could save 25,000 shekels per passenger.

Zohar estimated that such a move would be possible only if an agreement was reached with the Saudis and a Saudi airline agreed to launch such a route.

    In another such attempt to woo Arab voters, Netanyahu also posted a verse from the Quran on his official Facebook page. The post initially included an explanation about the importance of the Haj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, but it was later removed. It was then replaced with a different post that featured the verse from the Quran and a line from a Likud campaign targeting the Jewish Israeli public: "The Joint List has done nothing, we are the ones that act for the Arab public."

    Ayman Odeh, the chairman of the Arab-led Joint List, slammed Netanyahu for this campaign on Thursday. "Only a true racist like Netanyahu can think that the Arab citizens are stupid enough to forget that only two months ago, he wrote that we want to obliterate children and women. Two interviewes [with Arab media] won't cover for a decade of incitement and hate," Odeh stated.

    "In 13 days," he continued, "the Arab citizens will remove him from office for good."

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