Israeli Arab mayors criticize Netanyahu comments inviting protesters to leave country

Violent protests have mainly took place in the north and Jerusalem but have generally not reached too far south.

Protest in Kafr Kana (photo credit: Courtesy)
Protest in Kafr Kana
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Comments from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that protesters could go live in the West Bank and Gaza drew criticism from Israeli Arab mayors on Tuesday, with former Rahat Mayor Faiz Abu Seheban warning that tensions could spread to the South if the situation did not calm down.
The previous mayor of the southern Beduin town told The Jerusalem Post in an interview that the government needed to deal with the rising tensions and violence between Arabs and the state.
Israeli Arabs have expressed anger at government officials and the police in recent weeks. On Friday, policemen killed an Arab attacker during an arrest operation on Friday evening in the northern village of Kafr Kana, leading to further violent protests – though such protests have mainly taken place in the North and Jerusalem so far.
“We ask the prime minister to open up an investigation” into the shooting, said Abu Seheban, adding that the tensions in the North were affecting Arabs in the South.
Beduin in the Negev have been suffering under government policies and discrimination, with issues including land disputes, poverty, and high unemployment, and this latest incident is just another grievance on top of existing ones, he said.
He also called for allocating more budgetary resources to Arab municipalities, saying such a move could help deal with tensions between Arabs and the government.
On Monday, Netanyahu publicly challenged Israeli Arabs protesting the police shooting to go and live under Palestinian rule in the West Bank and Gaza.
“To all those who are demonstrating and shouting their denunciation of Israel and support of a Palestinian state, I can say one simple thing: You are invited to move there – to the Palestinian Authority or to Gaza,” he said.
Mazen Ganaim, mayor of Sakhnin and chairman of the committee of Arab municipal authorities, told the Post that “we Arabs want to calm the situation,” but some politicians and ministers were pouring oil on the flames.
Regarding the prime minister’s comments, he said that “the role of the prime minister is to defend all citizens, and it is unfortunate that he said this.”
Kafr Kasim Mayor Adel Badir said Netanyahu’s remarks “affect the Arab street,” as the average Arab “does not feel good that the prime minister wants them out of the country.”
“Instead of the government trying to calm things and invest in Arab towns, it talks about Arabs leaving,” he said. “The state says, ‘You are a guest,’ but we were here before the state existed – this is our land. We are not visitors here.”
If the prime minister wants to calm tensions, he said, he “should speak directly to the Arabs with respect, like he does with the Jews.”
Badir said the prime minister’s statement was most likely due to domestic political interests, as there are plans for Likud Party elections and there are rumors that there may be a general election in another six months or so.
Like most of the Arab sector, Badir called for an investigation of the police officers involved in the shooting incident, predicting that such a move would help calm tensions.
“We know that it was a cold-blooded murder,” he said.
“The police should also protect Arabs,” he added, calling on the government “to respect their right to protest.”
Reuters contributed to this report.