In election switch, Netanyahu courts the Arab vote

Trying to throw off his anti-Arab image, Netanyahu calls on Arab voters to support his right-wing Likud Party.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a meeting of his right-wing Likud Party on Saturday that he is courting the Arab vote in the upcoming national election, Walla News reported Saturday.

At a meeting of the Likud Secretariat, Netanyahu appeared to throw off his past comments about Israeli Arabs and said “all citizens in the State of Israel should be given all the rights.”

“We turn to the Arab citizens – this time vote for us,” Netanyahu said, adding he had plans for investment in the Arab sector and would launch a plan to fight a growing crime rate that has rattled Arab society over the past year.

The comments came after visits to two coronavirus vaccination centers in the Arab sector at the end of last week. The Likud has conducted polling tests regarding what the reaction would be if the party reserved a top spot on its election list for an Arab candidate.

With support for Likud down, recent polls that show Netanyahu may not have enough support in the March 23 election to form a new coalition government. The party has its work cut out for it. The prime minister is still remembered for stating before the 2015 elections that “Arab voters are moving in huge numbers to the polls” in an effort to scare Jewish voters into countering the perceived threat.

The move also comes after warming relations between the Likud and the Ra’am faction in the predominantly Arab Joint List, headed by MK Mansour Abbas, who in the past months refused to support a vote for new elections, raising the ire of the other three parties in the Joint List.

Veteran Arab MK Ahmad Tibi slammed Netanyahu’s outreach to the Arabs, recalling the 2015 comments and reminding his constituents that in the previous election Likud tried to have cameras installed in Arab polling stations as an intimidation tactic, saying “he who believes his [Netanyahu’s] lies deserves it.”

Yesh Atid Party leader Yair Lapid, part of the opposition, also attacked Netanyahu recalling that “an ancient Arab proverb says: If you are a liar, think carefully before you lie. If you are a liar, you must have a good memory, lest they expose your lie.”

“Our buses are ready to flock to the polls, but certainly not to vote for the big instigators against us,” said Mtanes Shihadehm, leader of the Balad faction of the Joint List.

Maariv newspaper’s Arab affairs analyst Shimrit Meir said Likud policy was changing because Netanyahu “has seen polls that show he has something to look for in the Arab electorate.”

“The issue of the four peace agreements, especially with the Emirates, is something that has created a wave of something in the Arab public, the numbers range from 60-50 percent of the Arab public who support the agreement, compared to 100 percent of their leaders who voted against,” Meir said.

“The Palestinian issue is still important to Arabs in Israel, but it is something that shows no indication that it is moving in any direction,” Meir added. “Not everyone would shun them [the Likud].”