There He Goes Again: Netanyahu Seizes on Arabs Before Election

(Bloomberg) -- Hours before polls closed in Israel’s 2015 election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a news conference to drum up support by warning that Arab citizens were “going to the polls in droves.”

Never mind that they weren’t, and that Netanyahu later apologized. Today, as he faces a serious challenge in the April 9 election from ex-military chief Benny Gantz, he’s again raising, in contemptuous terms, the prospect that the country’s Arab minority could prove decisive.

Reacting Wednesday to Gantz’s seeming support for Israel’s 2005 unilateral pullout from the Gaza Strip, Netanyahu wrote on Facebook: “We told you so. Gantz will form a left-wing government with the help of Tibi and the Joint List supporting it from outside.”

Ahmed Tibi leads a prominent Arab party, while the Joint List is an alliance of Arab factions. Forming a government by relying on the support of Arab parties that reject Israel’s definition of itself as the Jewish state is anathema to right-wing Jewish Israelis.

Yitzhak Rabin is the only prime minister in Israel’s history to have relied on Arab parties that weren’t part of his minority government to keep it in power by blocking no-confidence motions.

Gantz’s campaign has attempted to place him more toward the center ground of Israeli politics, with a mixed message that he’s shown himself implacable in confronting threats to Israel -- including taking personal credit for deadly Israeli military operations in Gaza -- but also willing to pursue peace with the Palestinians.

Gantz’s party, responding to the Facebook post, retorted that Netanyahu -- who voted for the Gaza withdrawal three times before quitting as finance minister to protest it -- “will not lecture us about diplomatic and security responsibility. A Gantz government will not take any unilateral steps related to evacuation of communities.”

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