Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's controversial election day rhetoric on Arab voters will have negative consequences on American foreign policy, US President Barack Obama said Thursday.
Obama reiterated his criticism of Netanyahu's statements, telling the Atlantic that a portrayal of Arab voters as "an invading force that might vote" is contrary to the very language of the Israeli Declaration of Independence, which explicitly states that all people regardless of race or religion are full participants in the democracy."
Netanyahu, who won a third consecutive term, and his fourth overall, wrote on his Facebook page about four hours after the polls on opened that "the Arabs are flocking in droves to the polling stations," calling on his supporters to turn up en masse at the ballots. "The right wing rule is in danger," he added.
Netanyahu's remarks were widely denounced as racist and even drew a public rebuke from.
"When something like that happens, that has foreign policy consequences, and precisely because we’re so close to Israel, for us to simply stand there and say nothing would have meant that this office, the Oval Office, lost credibility when it came to speaking out on these issues,” Obama told Jeffrey Goldberg.
Also Thursday, Netanyahu had a tense and unusual meeting with Ayman Odeh, the head of Israel's Joint Arab List party.
The hawkish leader has not met in the past with Arab political leaders; yet Odeh represents a union of all the Arab parties in the Knesset, which accounts for more than 10 percent of the legislature, making the Joint List the third largest grouping in parliament.
The meeting took place after former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman urged Netanyahu to cancel it, accusing him of granting legitimacy to "terror supporters." He has also voiced support for Netanyahu's election day remarks.
Odeh said the meeting was "not an easy one" as the discomfiture over the premier's election day warning call proved difficult to shake off.
"I've come to this meeting burdened with great responsibility – representing the country's largest minority which the prime minister chose to marginalized and incite against as part of a contemptible election-day ruse," Odeh told the press.
Odeh added that the issues that were central to his "working meeting" with Netanyahu were the everyday difficulties faced by Arab Israelis, most acutely the housing crisis.
Referring to homes not authorized or recognized by Israel that are under the threat of demolition, Odeh spoke of "the threat that tens of thousands of families will suddenly find themselves on the streets, homeless."
"I presented the prime minister with a detailed plan for a comprehensive reform in the Arab communities, demanding to immediately halt all the demolitions and engage in a dialogue with the citizens in order to find real solutions to the housing crisis and a path to the legal recognition of unrecognized villages."
He added he harbored no great hopes Israel's current right-wing government would make any steps toward a diplomatic solution to the conflict with the Palestinians, saying that in the current atmosphere any talk of peace by top Israeli officials seemed more like a comic interlude than a serious statement of intent.
Netanyahu said he is committed to "closing the gaps" between the different strata of Israeli society.