Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a memorial ceremony at Mount Hertzl in Jerusalem for Israel's fallen in the Second Lebanon War, July 19, 2016.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
As Israelis headed to the polls to elect the 20th Knesset on March 17, 2015, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was never supposed to tell them that the country’s Arabs citizens were heading to ballot boxes to vote “in droves.”
His strategists advised him to say that supporters of the Joint Arab List were voting en masse, not Arabs in general.
It may sound like the same thing to some. But the difference in nuance is between a statement that even Netanyahu now admits was racist and actual political fact, subsequently proven correct by a higher than usual Arab Israeli voter turnout.
Netanyahu never explained why he changed the wording of the statement prepared for him. He might have been panicking – which he is known to do when facing political challenges.
He might have made an honest mistake – though, that rarely happens in rehearsed videos. Either way, he already apologized to the country’s Arab citizens a few days after his victory, in a political event with Arab Likudniks, which would have been more persuasive had he apologized before the polls closed.
So why expand his apology now, more than a year later? What was the point of this video? Netanyahu’s aides connected the video to a bill that passed Sunday expanding infrastructure and investment in the Arab sector. They said, he genuinely believes in helping Arab citizens and he wants people to know about it.
Which people? He put out the video simultaneously in Hebrew and English with Arabic subtitles in both. Arab MKs immediately ridiculed Netanyahu for reaching out to fellahin (poor Arab farmers) in English on the Internet.
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Joint List MK Ahmed Tibi mocked that at one point the video was shaking because the cameraman could not stop laughing.
But, there is nothing wrong with both helping Arab citizens (and the bill does), and telling the world about it.
Good public diplomacy for Israel helps everyone.
With Netanyahu’s image around the world being so much more hardline than he is perceived at home in Israel, this video is helpful in correcting that misperception.
Netanyahu praising Arabs is as ‘man bites dog’ as a story gets.
While the prime minister’s aides say the timing is connected to the bill, they admitted when pressed that Netanyahu is also working on a series of videos organized by his adviser David Keyes which have been attracting massive attention on social media, including one on the June 14 massacre at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub that was viewed an impressive 24-million times.
While unintentional, the timing during the US’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia was also perfect.
There’s a real chance to get along with a potential Democratic president for the first time in eight years. Reaching out to minorities and promoting the values that Israelis and American Democrats share about social equality and tikkun olam (social justice) is very helpful.
At a time, when other countries are having trouble with their Muslim minorities, Israel is reaching out to hers.
Although the video on election day was a mistake, here, the impact of the video may prove to be even more positive than was actually intended.
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