JERUSALEM (JTA) — The chairman of Israel’s ruling government coalition raised the ire of fellow lawmakers by saying he would prefer that Arab Israelis did not vote in national elections.
David Bitan, of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party, on Saturday said during an event in the Jerusalem suburb of Mevasseret Zion: “Arabs flock to the polls? I’d prefer if they didn’t show up to vote at all.”
Some 95 percent of Arab Israelis vote for the Joint List, Bitan noted, adding that the party: “doesn’t represent Israeli-Arab interests – it represents Palestinian interests.”
Netanyahu in a video posted on Facebook on Election Day in March 2015 urged Likud voters to cast ballots, saying the “the Arabs are going to the polls in droves,” and that the Arab voters were being bused to the polls in a campaign he said was funded from abroad.
Over 20 percent of Israel’s citizens are Arab.
In July, Netanyahu in a video message called on Arab citizens of Israel to become more involved in Israeli society.
“Before my election, I said Arab voters were going to the polls in droves,” Netanyahu said, referring to the March 2015 national election. “I was referring to a specific political party, but many people were understandably offended. I apologized for how my comment was misunderstood.
“But today I want to go further. Today I am asking Arab citizens in Israel to take part in our society — in droves. Work in droves, study in droves, thrive in droves.”
Later on Saturday, Bitan doubled down on his remarks.
“I do not understand what the fuss is about. No political party wants to see its opponents going to the polls,” Bitan said.
Netanyahu did not publicly reprimand Bitan for his remarks.
Joint Arab List party members called on Bitan to be fired.
The head of the opposition, Isaac Herzog of the Zionist Union party, accused Bitan of calling “to deny voting rights to minorities, just as the anti-Semitic leaders of Europe did in the past to the Jewish people.”
Yehuda Glick, a Likud Knesset member, rejected Bitan’s remarks, saying: “I really hope the Arabs will vote. I hope we’ll be appealing enough so Arabs will also want to vote Likud.”