Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is planning to campaign heavily for Arab votes in the coming election, television reports and the prime minister himself indicated Friday.
During a visit to the northern Arab Israeli city of Umm al-Fahm to encourage vaccination against coronavirus and congratulate the one-millionth Israeli to get inoculated, Netanyahu told Channel 13 News that the Arab vote had “huge potential.”
“For many, many years the Arab public was outside the mainstream of leadership. Why?” he said. “There’s no reason. People contribute, people work. Let’s go all the way. Be part of the full success story of Israel. That’s what I would like to be exemplified in the election.”
He said that “Arab citizens can see the great things we’ve done. We’ve brought four historic peace agreements with Arab nations that have changed the face of the Middle East and Israeli society. Arabs and Jews are embracing in Dubai and will embrace here too.”
And Channel 13 reported that Netanyahu, hoping to break the traditional paradigm in elections that has led to gridlock and paralysis after three consecutive elections, is planning on heavily courting the Arab vote.
The premier hopes to achieve two things, the report said: gain some two Knesset seats thanks to Arab support and reduce backing for the Arab-majority Joint List, which has been sliding in recent polls. Both tactics, Netanyahu hopes, will make it easier for him to form a coalition after the election in March, according to the report.
Netanyahu’s Likud has campaigned in the past on unfounded claims of electoral fraud in Arab communities. He has repeatedly demonized Arab lawmakers in the Knesset and gained global notoriety for warning his supporters on election day 2015 that “Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves.”
In recent months, however, he appears to have formed a quiet alliance with the Joint List’s MK Mansour Abbas, to the chagrin of Abbas’s colleagues.
On Thursday during an unprecedented visit to the Arab town of Tirah to encourage vaccination, Netanyahu said he did not rule out placing an Arab lawmaker on his right-wing list.
Asked by Channel 13 if he planned more visits to Arab communities in the coming months, Netanyahu said: “This is just the beginning.”
Meanwhile, some residents of Umm al-Fahm criticized Netanyahu’s arrival, saying he was trying to score political points at their expense.
“The residents of Umm al-Fahm are not fans of Netanyahu or the right in general, due to the policy of incitement and racism [Netanyahu] has led toward the Arab public,” Mahmoud Adib Aghbaria, a local leader, told Walla News.
“We haven’t forgotten his statements and policies,” he said. “We still think he views us, Arab Israeli citizens, as enemies.”
Yousef Aghbaria, another resident, told the news site Netanyahu would do better to take care of the town’s failing infrastructure.
“What has he done for us for 20 years? There’s no funding, crime is raging and racism is at an all-time high.”
Recent opinion polls have shown Netanyahu’s Likud ahead of its rivals as Israel heads to a new election in March, but without a clear path to forming a coalition, signaling the potential for ongoing political gridlock as the country holds its fourth election in two years.
Elections were called last week after the power-sharing government of Likud and Blue and White failed to agree on a budget by a December 23 deadline. They are set to take place on March 23, 2021.