Arabs Aren't 'Second-class Voters,' President Rivlin Rebukes Netanyahu

Rivlin joins heated debate that was sparked when a TV presenter slammed culture minister's comment on Arabs in government and got slammed by Netanyahu

President Rivlin and Gal Gadot in Los Angeles, 2017.
GPO/Mark Neiman

President Reuven Rivlin said Monday morning that Israeli Arabs were not "second-class voters" and that "there are no first-class citizens" in the country. 

Rivlin made the remarks in a rebuttal to a comment by Prime Minister Benjamin who said that "Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people and them alone." 

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The premier wrote this comment on an Instagram post in which he responded to a statement by Israeli television host Rotem Sela, who slammed Culture Minister Miri Regev for saying in a televised interview that Arab presence in a governing coalition was dangerous. 

Rivlin, who spoke at a ceremony marking the 40th anniversary of the signing of the peace accord between Israel and Egypt, said that "those who believe in the duty of the State of Israel to be a Jewish and democratic state in the full sense of the word must remember that in the State of Israel there are full equal rights to all of the country's citizens."

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Sela wrote on her Instagram, "Rina Matzliach [the journalist who interviewed Regev] stayed silent. And I ask myself why Rina doesn't ask her in shock – 'and what's the problem with Arabs???' Oh my god, there are also Arab citizens in this country."

A screenshot of Rotem Sela's Instagram story
Screenshot: Rotemsela1

Netanyahu responded on his own Instagram, "Dear Rotem, an important correction: Israel is not a state of all its citizens."

Rivlin's comments Monday were more aligned with Sela's message. "When we face the ballot we will all be equal, Jews and Arabs. In the Knesset everyone will be represented, Jews and non-Jews," he said in a statement that he later tweeted on his official handle in Arabic.

He also took to Twitter to reinforce the message, writing in Hebrew: "Over the recent period we are exposed to an unacceptable dialog revovling around Israeli Arabs. I refuse to believe that there are parties that have given up on Israel's image as a democratic and Jewish state."

The Israeli president went on to address the current status of relations between Jerusalem and Cairo, conceding that "peace with Egypt has yet to ripen into a reality of open borders and a shared life of the two peoples," but that "it enabled all of us - Israelis, Egyptians and later Jordanians - to focus on regional initatives of rfinancial cooperation and energy, water and tourism initiatives that cross borders."