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Netanyahu apologises for election day comments on Israel's Palestinian citizens

Israel's premier has apologised for controversial statements he made during the election campaign with regards to Israel's Arab population
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures to supporters on 17 March, 2015 in the city of Tel Aviv (AFP)

In a meeting with Israel’s Palestinian Arab representatives on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologised for statements he made last week on election day, which have been criticised as amounting to racism.

“The right-wing government is in danger. Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls,” Netanyahu said in a short video posted on his Facebook page, aimed at getting more Israeli voters to support his right-wing party Likud.

The meeting on Monday was aimed at calming the atmosphere in Palestinian Arab towns and villages within Israel, as well as to ease international criticism, especially from US President Barack Obama, to his statements.

A day after the Israeli elections took place, Josh Earnest, Obama’s press secretary, said, “The United States and this administration is deeply concerned about rhetoric that seeks to marginalise Arab Israeli citizens.”

“Rhetoric that seeks to marginalise one segment of their population is deeply concerning, it is divisive, and I can tell you that these are views the administration intends to communicate directly to the Israelis,” Earnest added.

Netanyahu acknowledged this his comments were offensive, but said it was not his intention to be so.

“I know the things I said a few days ago hurt some Israeli citizens,” Netanyahu said. “That was not my intention and I am sorry.”

“My actions as prime minister, including massive investments in minority sectors, prove the exact opposite,” he continued. “I think, similarly, that no element outside the state of Israel should intervene in our democratic processes.”

 “I see myself as the prime minister of each and every one of you, of all Israeli citizens without differentiating between religions, races, and sex. I see in all Israeli citizens partners in building the state of Israel, one that is thriving and safe for all Israeli citizens.”

For their part, the Joint List - a coalition made up of Arab factions that became the third largest party with 13 Knesset seats won in the recent election - rejected Netanyahu’s apology, saying that he is paving the way for more “racist and marginalising legislation” in the next Israeli parliament.

They also called on Netanyahu to “give back the Knesset seat he got based on incitement and fear.”

Palestinians living in Israel make up 20 percent of Israel’s total population, yet face institutionalised racism and are often treated as second-class citizens.