Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday apologized to the nation’s Arab citizens for remarks he made during last week’s parliament election that offended members of the community.
The move appeared to be an attempt to heal rifts and mute criticism at home and in the US. Netanyahu drew accusations of racism in Israel, especially from its Arab minority, and a White House rebuke when, just a few hours before polling stations were to close across the nation, he said that Arab citizens were voting “in droves.”
However, US President Barack Obama’s chief of staff, Denis McDonough, rejected Netanyahu’s attempt to distance himself from his comments, telling an Israel advocacy group that the US cannot just overlook what Netanyahu said on the eve of his re-election.
Netanyahu, whose Likud Party won re-election in the vote, met with members of the Arab community at the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem on Monday and apologized.
He said he knows his “comments last week offended some Israeli citizens and offended members of the Israeli-Arab community.”
“This was never my intent. I apologize for this,” Netanyahu said. “I view myself as the prime minister of each and every citizen of Israel, without any prejudice based on religion, ethnicity or gender. I view all Israeli citizens as partners in the building of a prosperous and safe state of Israel, for all Israelis.”
A recently established alliance of four small, mostly Arab parties called the Joint List made unprecedented gains in the March 17 election, earning enough votes to make it the third-largest party in Israel’s parliament.
Arab citizens make up 20 percent of Israel’s population. Equality is guaranteed in Israel’s laws, but many Arabs have long complained of discrimination, mainly in the job and housing market.
Joint List head Ayman Odeh told channel 2 TV that Netanyahu’s apology was not accepted.
“This is not a real apology,” Odeh said. “He incited against citizens who were exercising their basic right to vote for Knesset.”
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