Netanyahu calls on Arab citizens to become more involved in Israeli society

Netanyahu calls on Arab citizens to become more involved in Israeli society

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a video message called on Arab citizens of Israel to become more involved in Israeli society.

The message was released on Monday evening in Hebrew and in English with subtitles in Arabic.

“Before my election, I said Arabs 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,” the prime minister continued.

Over 20 percent of Israel’s citizens are Arab.

“I am proud of the role Arabs play in Israel’s success,” Netanyahu said, noting that there are Arab Supreme Court justices, members of Knesset, entrepreneurs and doctors. “I want you to play an even greater role in” that success, he added.

“Israel is strong because of our diversity and pluralism—not in spite of it,” he said.

Netanyahu noted that the government recently passed a resolution to invest “massive resources” in Arab communities, for areas such as public infrastructure, transportation, employment, education housing and welfare.

He acknowledged that “significant gaps remain.”

Netanyahu also pointed to legislation approved Sunday by the Knesset that “would significantly strengthen public safety for Arab towns and villages. They’re yearning to be free from a life of crime and violence,” he said. “My vision is that young Arab boys and girls grow up knowing they can achieve anything in Israel as valued and equal citizens in our democracy.”

Netanyahu concluded: “Today I ask you all to join me in this effort. Now, each of us has a role to play. Jews and Arabs should reach out to each other, get to know each other’s families. Listen to each other. Jews and Arabs should treat one another with the same dignity and respect you’d want for your own family. Our land is too small, it’s too precious to fill it with discord and hate.”

“Let us work together, Arabs and Jews alike, to reach ever higher in the noble pursuit of equality and dignity for all,” he said.

In a statement sent Tuesday to reporters, Arab-Israeli lawmaker Ayman Odeh, head of the Arab Joint List Party, called Netanyahu’s message a “hypocritical charade.”

“This evening I watched the video released by the Prime Minister and I asked myself: could this be the same prime minister who tried with all his might to block the economic development plan for Arab municipalities, who attempted to add more and more conditions so that the plan would be completely impractical? Is this the same prime minister who incited against Arab citizens during the elections, and who since then has only intensified his incitement against us? When I saw that he chose to appeal to us in English, I understood the true purpose of his message and to whom it was really directed. So I say to the Prime Minister, in the name of the Arab public: we don’t buy this hypocritical charade,” read the statement.

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