What happened: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has unofficially begun his re-election campaign with a charm offensive toward the Israeli-Arab community.
- On Friday he visited a coronavirus vaccination facility in Umm Al-Fahm and met the 1,000,000th person in Israel to be vaccinated. It later transpired that Jabarin Muhammad, a 66-year-old resident of Umm Al-Fahm, was convicted of stabbing a man to death nearly 40 years ago and served 14 years in prison until his release in 1992.
- Netanyahu also visited a medical facility in the town of Tira to help encourage more vaccinations among the Israeli-Arab population. Netanyahu said: “We brought millions of vaccines here, more than any other country in the world relative to its population, and we brought them to everyone: Jews and Arabs, religious and secular. Everyone can – and needs to – be vaccinated.”
- Leader of the Joint List MK Ayman Odeh responded by saying: “We already knew that Netanyahu doesn’t believe that we’re equal, but his new attempt to cobble together votes is proof of the insult to Arab society’s intelligence. A decade of indifference to crime, violent incitement and fostering hatred won’t be wiped away by an election campaign. Arab society will stand up to its haters with its head held high and won’t let them divide it this time either.”
- However, MK Mansour Abbas, who heads the United Arab faction in the Joint List, struck a different tone noting on Twitter: “I was pleased to be the first to identify and to lead the change in the stance taken by politicians on the Israeli Right towards Arab society, from a hostile stance towards the Arab citizens of the country to a stance that places them in the centre of political discourse in the shadow of this complex election!”
- Last week Gideon Saar, the leader of the New Hope Party outlined his approach to the phenomena of violent crime and illegal weapons within the Arab sector. Saar proposed a three-point plan: “Collection of all illegal weapons by the end of 2021… a minimum penalty for possession and trading of an illegal weapon… thirdly, to declare war on the criminal organisations, something the Israeli police have done in the past, and must do within Arab society today, to fundamentally change the situation.”
Context: The Likud is aiming to win over Joint List voters and to persuade them to vote Likud.
- A Likud source told Yediot Ahronot: “The Arab voters are thronging to the Likud since they know that we deliver unprecedented economic opportunities. They see Jews and Arabs embracing in Dubai and want to be part of that. After the Joint List voted against the agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, the Arab voters are turning to us for the sake of a future of peace and prosperity.”
- On election day in March 2015, Prime Minister Netanyahu infamously posted a video ahead of the polls closing that warned “the Arab voters are going in droves to the polling stations”. He was widely criticised and accused of racism by calling into question the democratic right of Israel’s Arab citizens to vote. Six years after that video, Netanyahu is now taking a radically different approach.
- Over the weekend Netanyahu noted: “In the past few years, I delivered 15 billion shekels to Arab localities to close gaps, more than any other government… I opened nine police stationhouses in the Arab sector to fight crime. I didn’t do that because I thought I would win votes there. I did that because I believe in that. We aren’t against the Arabs. We’re against Arab parties that repudiate Zionism and which don’t recognise the State of Israel.”.
- Netanyahu went on to say, “Just as I delivered four peace agreements and now we’re seeing Jews embracing Arabs in Dubai, why shouldn’t that happen here?! Why shouldn’t they be part of the governing party? Why do they need to opt for radical parties that don’t act on their behalf?! Let them vote for me. When I said the ‘Arabs are going in droves to the polling stations,’ I meant that they shouldn’t vote for those parties. Come and vote for us.”
- Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid also clarified his own position last week writing on Facebook, “The Arab citizens of Israel are full citizens who deserve equal rights and support in the issues that are important to them … we led the battle to change the Nation-State Bill to include the Equality Clause. We voted in favour of the national plan to tackle violence in the Arab sector. In the past, we said we shouldn’t use the support of the Joint Arab List to form a government. Today we say that there’s no reason not to work with those who represent 20 per cent of the country’s population. We have changed and they have changed.”
- Violent crime among the Israeli-Arab population has been on the rise. According to Aman: The Arab Center Combating Violence, last year 113 Arabs were either murdered or lost their lives to violence, compared to 94 the previous year (a 20 percent rise). These figures include 96 men and 17 women., 26 people were killed in acts of revenge, 11 against the background of domestic violence, 41 are listed as “serious crime” and the rest—general violence. According to Aman, just 28 of the year’s murders have been solved.
- There are an estimated 400,000 illegal weapons in Israel. According to MK Mansour Abbas 93 percent of criminal shooting incidents take place in the Arab community.
- The Likud Central Committee has approved Netanyahu’s request to cancel internal elections ahead of the March election. They also approved the prime minister’s request to reserve personally six of the top 40 people in the party’s list. Netanyahu told the Central Committee that while he believes in democracy, it would be impossible to hold an internal election during the coronavirus crisis.
- The prime minister is considering reserving one of the slots on the Likud’s list for a representative of the Arab community.
Looking ahead: Later this week the Meretz Party conference is expected to approve their leader, MK Nitzan Horowitz’s plan to place two Israeli-Arabs in the top 5 of his party’s list. Jida Rinawi-Zuabi, from Nazareth, is expected to be in fourth place on their Knesset slate and replace MK Ilan Gal-On. Meretz are also expected to include three Arabs in their top ten, as well as full equal representation of 50 per cent men and women in the top ten.