His remarks on Tuesday came amid assessments that Israeli-Arab citizens, whose turnout has been historically lower than Jewish citizens in previous elections, were voting in larger numbers
JERUSALEM — Increasingly worried that he could lose Tuesday’s elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel lashed out at the country’s Arab voters, expressing alarm that a large turnout by them could determine the outcome. Opponents accused him of bald-faced racism.
Netanyahu’s remarks, in a video posted on social media, were seen by critics as the most strident in a series of assertions he has made in recent days to rally right-wing supporters to his argument that he is the only Israeli leader who will save the country from its enemies.
On Monday, Netanyahu said if his Likud faction was returned to power, he would never allow the creation of a Palestinian state, reversing a stance he had taken six years earlier. His statement was seen not only as validating Palestinian suspicions, but also risking further alienation between Netanyahu and the Obama administration, which supports a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Netanyahu also openly acknowledged having promoted a settlement over the 1967 lines in southeast Jerusalem in order to block the expansion of the West Bank city of Bethlehem and its connection with Jerusalem, something that critics said harmed the contiguity of any future Palestinian state.
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His remarks on Tuesday came amid assessments that Israeli-Arab citizens, whose turnout has been historically lower than Jewish citizens in previous elections, were voting in larger numbers.
They appeared to be supporting the Joint Arab List, an alliance of four small parties that together could win a significant bloc in the 120-seat Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, potentially preventing Netanyahu from gaining the 61 seats he needs to form a government.
The Arab parties have maintained that they will honor their tradition of refusing to join any governing coalition. But their leader, Ayman Odeh, has indicated he would support Isaac Herzog — the leader of the center-left Zionist Union alliance, Netanyahu’s most important adversary — if Netanyahu is defeated.
“Right-wing rule is in danger. Arab voters are streaming in huge quantities to the polling stations,” Netanyahu said in the video. “The left-wing nonprofit organizations are bringing them in buses.”
He exhorted supporters of Likud to vote. “With your help and God’s help we will form a national government and protect the state of Israel,” he said.
The Zionist Union alliance denounced Netanyahu’s language as racial fearmongering.
“No other Western leader would dare utter such a racist remark,” Shelly Yacimovich, a senior member of the bloc, wrote on Twitter. “Imagine a warning that starts, ‘Our rule is in danger, black voters are streaming in quantity to the polling stations.’”
The Joint Arab List announced that it had complained to Judge Salim Joubran, the chairman of the Central Election Committee, against Likud’s campaign clip, asking him to instruct the Likud to remove it.
“A prime minister who conducts propaganda against national minority citizens is crossing a red line of incitement and racism,” said Dov Hanin, a Joint Arab List candidate. “Such a message, voiced by a prime minister on the very day in which citizens are supposed to be encouraged to go out to vote, is testimony to a complete loss of compass and his preparedness to smash all principles of democracy just for the sake of his own leadership.”
Unapologetic, Netanyahu issued a statement hours later on his Facebook page, appealing to voters to come out and help narrow what he said was a “significant” gap between him and Herzog. He also repeated his assertions of recent days that vast quantities of foreign money had been funneled to left-wing organizations in an effort to topple him.
And turning his wrath to the Joint Arab List parties, Netanyahu said their leader, Odeh, “who supports Herzog, has already said that I should not only be replaced, but that I should also be put in jail for having defended the lives of Israeli citizens and IDF soldiers,” referring to the Israel Defense Forces.
Although many Israeli analysts had predicted that the Joint Arab List could significantly raise voter turnout among Israel’s Arab citizens, it remained unclear by late Tuesday how many Israeli Arabs were voting. There are about 1.7 million Arab citizens of Israel, making up about 20 percent of the population.
Elizabeth Tsurkov, an Israeli rights activist and blogger, noted in a Twitter message that Netanyahu’s appeal to voters was echoed by his ally, Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s nationalist foreign minister.
Lieberman suggested recently to Odeh that he had no right to participate in Israel’s elections.