Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Israel is “not a state of all its citizens”, in a reference to the country’s Palestinian Arab population, adding that all citizens, including Arabs, had equal rights.
However, in his comments on Instagram, Netanyahu referred to a deeply controversial law passed last year declaring Israel the nation-state of the Jewish people.
“Israel is not a state of all its citizens,” he wrote in response to criticism from an Israeli actor, Rotem Sela.
“According to the basic nationality law we passed, Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people – and only it.”
The law, passed last summer, downgraded the Arabic language from an official language to a language with “special status”, making Hebrew the only official language, and stipulated that “Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish people and they have an exclusive right to national self-determination in it”.
It also states that an undivided Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.
Sela had posted on Instagram her criticism of an interview with right-wing Culture Minister Miri Regev, one of the Netanyahu cabinet’s most vocal critics of the Palestinians.
“When will anyone in this government tell the public that this is a country of all its citizens, and all people are born equal,” Sela wrote.
“Arabs are also human beings. And also the Druze, and the gays, and the lesbians and… gasp… leftists.”
As the comments made waves in Israel, Netanyahu reiterated his point at the start of a cabinet meeting.
He called Israel a “Jewish, democratic state” with equal rights, but “the nation state not of all its citizens but only of the Jewish people”.
Netanyahu has been accused of demonising Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up about 17 percent of the population, in an attempt to boost right-wing turnout in elections due on April 9.
The prime minister has continually warned that his opponents will receive the support of Arab parties and that they will make significant concessions to the Palestinians.
Netanyahu, who may face indictment for corruption, is facing a tough challenge from a centrist political alliance led by Benny Gantz, a former military chief of staff, and Yair Lapid, a former finance minister.
The alliance’s centrist positions and its security credentials – it includes three former military chiefs of staff – have helped it beat back Netanyahu’s claims that its leaders are “weak” leftists.
It is extremely unlikely that Arab parties would be part of any coalition government after elections.
Netanyahu leads what is seen as the most right-wing government in Israel’s history and says he wants a similar coalition after the upcoming polls.