Nearly one week after seeking to save his political career by warning conservative voters that Arabs were voting "in droves" in Israel's parliamentary elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday said he was "sorry" for the offense caused by his remarks.
“I know that the things I said a few days ago hurt some citizens in Israel, the Arab Israeli citizens,” the prime minister told a group of Arab community leaders, according to the Jerusalem Post. "This was not my intention and I am sorry."
He added, "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."
As voting was still underway on Tuesday, Netanyahu posted a video to Facebook in which he exhorted supporters of his rightist Likud party to vote, saying, “The right-wing government is in danger. Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls. Left-wing organizations are busing them out. Get out to vote, bring your friends and family, vote Likud in order to close the gap between us and Labor.”
While many observers expected Netanyahu's naked appeal to racism to backfire, Likud actually scored a larger-than-expected victory, taking 30 seats in the 120-seat Parliament, well above the roughly 24 seats predicted by pre-election polls. Combining with smaller Orthodox and conservative parties, Netanyahu now enjoys the majority needed to form a government.
The White House strongly condemned Netanyahu's anti-Arab comments, with Press Secretary Josh Earnest dubbing them "a pretty transparent effort to marginalize Arab-Israeli citizens and their right to participate in their democracy." President Obama added to the criticism over the weekend, telling the Huffington Post's Sam Stein that Netanyahu's statement "was contrary to what is the best of Israel's intentions."