A day after his decisive victory at the polls, the White House today slammed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign video noting that Arabs were coming to the polls in “droves” as divisive rhetoric.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest wasn’t asked about the video on board Air Force One with reporters, but said he wanted to address “one other thing that I anticipated might come up that I just did want to mention as it relates to the Israeli elections.”
“Specifically, there has been a lot of coverage in the media about some of the rhetoric that emerged yesterday that was propagated by the Likud Party to encourage turnout of their supporters that sought to, frankly, marginalize Arab-Israeli citizens. The United States and this administration is deeply concerned by divisive rhetoric that seeks to marginalize Arab-Israeli citizens,” Earnest said.
“It undermines the values and democratic ideals that have been important to our democracy and an important part of what binds the United States and Israel together,” he continued. “We’ve talked a lot about how our shared values are an important part of what binds our two countries together, and rhetoric that seeks to marginalize one segment of their population is deeply concerning and it is divisive.”
“And I can tell you that these are views that the administration intends to communicate directly to the Israelis.”
Going into the election, Netanyahu decried foreign money pouring into the campaign to support candidates on the Arab Joint List, which emerged from Tuesday with 14 seats in the Knesset. “This foreign money is distorting the true will of the Israeli citizens toward the left and giving excessive power to the extreme Arab list,” he said. “The rule of the right is in danger.”
In a video posted on his Facebook page encouraging voters to get out to the polls, Netanyahu said left-wing organizations were busing in Arab voters. “Get out to vote, bring your friends and family, vote Likud,” he said.
President Obama has not called Netanyahu, though he did find time during his Cleveland trip today to call German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“I do anticipate that the President will call Prime Minister Netanyahu in the coming days,” Earnest said.
“…At this point I don’t want to preview any details about the call. But I can tell you that these are — that there is deep concern about this divisive rhetoric and we will share those deep concerns directly with the Israelis.”
But Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel (N.Y.), the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, defended Bibi.
“It’s hard, again, to get into somebody’s head and see why they said it. I think he assumes that the Arab parties, which have unified for the election, were running on one slate and that the Arabs of Israel were not going to vote for him,” Engel said. “So I assume he was saying to his supporters that the others who are not going to be voting, you better come out to vote to counterbalance that. Perhaps it wasn’t the right choice of words. Perhaps it wasn’t, but I think it was, again, campaign rhetoric, and I wouldn’t read too much into it.”