Bibi: Wait, the Arabs Love Me!

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office, Sunday, March 8, 2015. Tens of thousands of Israelis gathered Saturday night at a Tel Aviv square under the banner ... Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office, Sunday, March 8, 2015. Tens of thousands of Israelis gathered Saturday night at a Tel Aviv square under the banner "Israel wants change" and called for Netanyahu to be replaced in March 17 national elections. (AP Photo/Gali Tibbon, Pool) MORE LESS
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I did not see the Mitchell/Netanyahu interview live. And I guess this got lost in the deluge of guffaws over Netanyahu’s epic ‘nevermind’ about putting the kibosh on a Palestinian state. But he actually tried an amazingly hilarious explanation for his election day warning to rightwing voters that “The right-wing government is in danger. Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls. Left-wing organizations are busing them out.”

The argument is more than a bit disjointed. But the gist is that he wasn’t saying anything against Arabs or trying to scare people into voting because of Arab voting. He was trying to rally right-wing Arab voters to vote for Likud.

Now, rightwing is a relative thing. Many Israeli Arabs may be conservative or rightwing in the abstract. But very few of them are right wing in the context of Israeli politics.

There is a major exception – and it’s probably what Netanyahu is referencing below about meeting with Arab voters in the North. Israel’s Arab Druze minority is fully integrated into Israeli society. The Druze are if anything over-represented, relative to population, in the IDF and Israeli politics. I don’t know the exact breakdown but Druze are well represented in the Likud and other Zionist parties. But the idea that this call was meant to turn out Arab Likud voters is just as ridiculous if you have the context of Israeli politics as it likely is if you do not.

Here’s the exchange …

ANDREA MITCHELL: Words have meaning. Tom Friedman wrote today, “They must have been doing high-fives in Tehran when they saw how low Bibi sank to win. What better way to isolate Israel globally and deflect attention from Iran’s behavior?”

Joe Klein in “Time” magazine quoted bigotry.

Jeffrey Goldberg said that it would be calamitous, the way you talked about Arab voters and the way you talked about not going for a Palestinian state.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Well, I explained on the Palestinian state what it is we need. We need a demilitarized state that recognizes a Jewish state.

MITCHELL: Can — telling your supporters —

NETANYAHU: But an Arab vote is, I think, it’s very, very important. First of all, I’m very proud to be the prime minister of all of Israel’s citizens, Arabs and Jews alike.

MITCHELL: That’s not the way it sounded on election day.

NETANYAHU: Well, if you hear what I said, you might reconsider what you just said and what you quoted. I’m very proud of the fact that Israel is the one country in a very broad radius that — in which Arabs have free and fair elections. That’s sacrosanct. That will never change.

I met a few days ago with the Arab supporters, many Arab supporters of Likud. I met them in the north of the country and I said, look, I’m concerned with a massive foreign-funded effort, massive foreign money —

MITCHELL: Which foreign money? U.S. money?

NETANYAHU: Big NGOs that are coming in here with foreign money and it’s all over the place.

MITCHELL: You said tens of millions of dollars.

NETANYAHU: Well, definitely millions and I said it looks like maybe tens of millions of dollars that are coming in —

MITCHELL: From America?

NETANYAHU: Among other places. Foreign funders, that’s important.

But what has happened is that I said that they would try to get out votes for a specific party, an amalgamation of Islamists and other anti-Israel groups. And I said, when that happens, make sure we get out our vote. I wasn’t trying to suppress a vote; I was trying to get something to counter a foreign-funded effort to get votes that are intended to topple my party. And I was calling on our voters to come out.

And by the way, quite a few of them, we got quite a few Arab voters for the Likud and I’m very proud of that.

In any case, my governments have funded billions, billions, into the Arab communities to try to upgrade infrastructure, schools. And I will continue to do that. I will continue to do that, in my government, to have real integration of Arab citizens of Israel into the Israeli economy, Israeli high tech, Israeli society, medicine. In all of those areas, my commitment is real and that will stay real.

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