Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday clarified his controversial comments, where he warned that Arab Israelis were "rushing to the polls" before the 2015 elections, in a bid to win over the sector's vote ahead of the March 23 national ballot.
Netanyahu made the remarks during an election campaign in the predominantly Arab city of Nazareth, where 10 people were arrested as demonstrators clashed with police at a protest against the premier's visit. One of those detained was former Balad MK Hanin Zoabi.
"For years, political elements distorted my words," Netanyahu said at the start of this speech. "In the 2015 elections, my intention was not to warn about the vote of Arab citizens of Israel, but to warn against voting for the Joint List that subsequently opposed four historic peace agreements I achieved with four Arab states," he added.
"All Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel must vote, it is a democratic right."
Netanyahu's election day message six years ago to mobilize his right-wing voter base became a defining moment of the 2015 elections, drawing criticism and accusations of racism from across the globe.
During the speech, Netanyahu also thanked Arab citizens who work in the health system for helping the country battle the coronavirus pandemic. He also called for a start of a "new era" in relations between Arab Israelis and country's leadership.
"This is an opportunity to begin an era of respect and equality. The peace agreements I have reached with four Arab countries will bring about investments that will benefit all Israeli citizens, first and foremost within the Arab sector. Whoever claims that we remembered the Arab public now because of the election is either lying or he does not know the facts."
Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh, who took part in the protest ahead of Netanyahu's visit, brushed off the prime minister's attempt to reach out to the Arab sector.
"Netanyahu's great escape from his trial brought him to Nazareth in another attempt to divide the Arab society," he said. "It would have been pathetic had he not brought with him huge police forces that beat the protesters and journalists. If this is what your reconciliation efforts look like, you'd better stay home."