Rotem Sela (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R).
(photo credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS & MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel “is not a country of all its citizens,” hitting back at criticism from an Israeli actress who said the government treats Arabs like they are less worthy.
“First of all,” Netanyahu wrote in a Facebook message Sunday morning addressed to actress Rotem Sela, “an important correction: Israel is not a country of all its citizens. According to the Nation-State Law that we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish nation – and its alone. As you wrote, there is no problem with Arab citizens – they have equal rights like everybody and the Likud government has invested in the Arab sector more than any other government.”
The prime minister was responding to an Instagram post from Sela, a prolific and popular TV host and star of The Baker and the Beauty. Sela took to Instagram Saturday night to criticize Culture Minister Miri Regev and a journalist who interviewed her that evening.
“Miri Regev is sitting and explaining to [Channel 12 news anchor) Rina Matsliah that the public needs to beware, because if Benny Gantz is elected he will have to create a government with the Arabs,” Sela wrote on Instagram, alongside a photo of the culture minister. “Rina Matsliah is silent. And I ask myself: why doesn’t Rina ask her in shock: ‘And what’s the problem with the Arabs???’ Dear God, there are also Arab citizens in this country.”
Sela continued and asked: “When will anyone in this government tell the public that this is a country of all its citizens, and all people are born equal.” The actress said that “the Arabs are also human beings. And also the Druze, and the gays, and the lesbians and... gasp... leftists.”
After telling Sela that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people alone, Netanyahu then launched into his campaign motto: “It’s either a strong right-wing government led by me, or a weak left-wing government led by Yair Lapid and [Benny] Gantz, with the support of the Arab parties.”
The Arab political parties have repeatedly indicated that they would not join a Zionist government, and Blue and White leaders have said they don’t need them in order to form a coalition.
Regev herself also responded to Sela on Sunday morning.
“Rotem, we have no problem with the Arabs,” she wrote on Facebook. “We have in our party many Arab, Druze and Christian members. We have a problem with the hypocrisy and the masquerade ball of Lapid and Gantz, who are trying with all their might to hide from the public the fact that they’re left-wing, and are dressing up as centrists.” Regev added that Matsliah “didn’t stop me because it’s the truth. It’s either Bibi or Tibi.”
Sela is the popular TV host of a series of reality TV shows in Israel, including Hakochav Haba (Rising Star) and Ninja Israel, and appeared in the Israeli drama Autonomies last year. She is also a close friend of Israeli actress Gal Gadot; the pair have taken several vacations abroad together in recent months.
Several hours after her original Instagram story, Sela posted another update, saying that she had received dozens of “disgusting messages” from people after her post.
“Your disgusting messages will never prevent me from sharing my opinion,” she wrote. “An entire generation of children grew up in our country without hope for peace. That’s sad and depressing. If only politicians – whose voices are heard the loudest – were those who could give real hope for peace, equality and love instead of incitement and division.”
Carole Nuriel, the director of the Anti-Defamation League's Israel office, criticized the prime minister and party campaigns in general for their dismissal of the Arab parties.
“This anti-Arab rhetoric is a deeply troubling trend that, if it continues, could undermine Israel’s vibrant democracy," said Nuriel on Sunday. "The representation of Israeli Arabs in the Knesset has historically been a source of pride for Israel, highlighting its democratic character, despite the enduring conflict with its Arab neighbors, and attesting to its genuine efforts to include the Arab community as equal citizens. If the very exclusion of Arab parties becomes a litmus test for a legitimate coalition in the Knesset, Israel’s democracy undoubtedly will suffer.”
On Sunday afternoon, New Right leader Naftali Bennett also criticized Netanyahu for his Facebook post.
"During days when rockets are falling on communities in the South, I don't understand the logic of attacking a TV broadcaster instead of dealing with the real threat, which is Hamas shooting rockets at our children," Bennett said. "When I am defense minister, we will fight terrorists, and not the host of Hakochav Haba." The education minister added that all Israeli citizens have the right to equal citizenship, but there are "some parties and some individual MKs who oppose the existence of the State of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, and that I cannot accept."
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