Netanyahu's coalition chair angers Arabs with voting remarks

AP News
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Posted: Dec 10, 2016 2:03 PM

JERUSALEM (AP) — The coalition chairman of Benjamin Netanyahu's government angered Israel's Arab minority on Saturday by saying he would rather they didn't vote, in comments reminiscent of those made by the prime minister last year.

David Bitan said the Arab Joint List in parliament doesn't "represent the Arabs, they represent Gaza, Qatar and other countries."

He said he would "prefer" if Arabs didn't go to the polls to vote in elections.

His remarks angered many centrist Israelis as well as members of the country's Arab minority.

The Arab Joint List called for Bitan's dismissal.

Ayman Odeh, who heads that bloc of Arab parties, tweeted that Bitan's "racism and that of the government" only strengthens them.

Odeh told Channel 2 TV that Bitan's comments "continue to prove that all this leadership has to offer is explicit racism and cheap populism."

His fellow parliamentarian from the list Yousef Jabareen said: "Let's think how the political system in France would respond if the coalition chairman would say he doesn't want Jews to go to the polls."

On election day in 2015, Netanyahu drew accusations of racism when he galvanized supporters by warning that, "Arab voters are going in droves to the polls." He later apologized.

When Bitan was asked Saturday at the event where he was speaking if he agreed with Netanyahu's remark, he said they were appropriate.

Arab List members are no strangers to controversy themselves and have frequently antagonized Israelis, mainly with provocative shows of support for the Palestinians and activism for their cause.

Arabs make up a fifth of Israel's population. They enjoy full citizenship but frequently face unfair treatment in areas like jobs and housing. Arab-Israelis have risen to prominence in sports, politics, entertainment and the judiciary. But the community has long been viewed by many with suspicion, seen as untrustworthy, with loyalties torn between their Israeli citizenship and their Palestinian brethren in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.