Binyamin Netanyahu
Binyamin Netanyahu Hadas Parush/Flash 90

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) welcomed Tuesday Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s apology to the Israeli Arab community for comments he made to his supporters during the 20th Knesset elections. 

The ADL sent a letter to the prime minister earlier urging him to apologize to the Israeli Arab community and to reinforce his repeatedly expressed view that Arabs in Israel are fully equal citizens in the Jewish state.

"We welcome the prime minister’s outreach and apology to the Israeli Arab community," ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman stated. "While I do not believe the prime minister’s Election Day remarks were intended to be anti-Arab or racist, his words left questions in people’s minds about how the Arab community is viewed by Israel’s leadership and their place in Israeli society."

"It is important to remember that under Prime Minister Netanyahu’s watch there’s been a significant effort by the Israeli government to integrate Israeli Arabs into the broader society, particularly by investing billions of shekels in improving education and employment opportunities for Israeli Arabs," he continued. 

"Unfortunately, throughout the recent election campaign, there were too many extreme and divisive statements.  We reiterate our call to Israelis of all political affiliations to work to heal these wounds and promote inclusion for all in Israel." 

A rallying cry for American Jewry?

Several leaders of the Conservative Jewish community - including Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Aseembly (RA); Rabbi William Gershon, president of the RA; Rabbi Steven Wernick CEO of the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism (USCJ); and Margo Gold, international president of USCJ - issued a commendation of the apology as well. 

“The Rabbinical Assembly and the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism welcome and applaud today’s apology by Prime Minister Netanyahu," the groups said in a joint statement. 

Unlike the ADL, however, the two groups called on the wider American Jewish community to strengthen the US-Israel relationship after the US responded coldly to the apology and to Netanyahu's re-election in general.

“In this spirit, we hope that this statement begins a process of healing and unity for common purpose, not only in Israel but for the U.S.-Israel relationship, an alliance driven by deep and vital shared values and interests," it added. "For American Jews, and for those of us in the Conservative Movement, recent statements by the US Administration that could be interpreted to signal a potential distancing between the US and Israel have been a cause for grave concern."

“Within the Jewish community there is room for honest response to actions that trouble us, but the US-Israel relationship is sacrosanct and we consider our support for Israel and for the strongest US-Israel relationship to be axiomatic to our Jewish identity," it continued. "What our community needs is more cooperation and unity in working together toward strengthening the US-Israel partnership, not creating new divisions by seeking to attack fellow Jewish organizations or create new points of conflict."

“We congratulate the Prime Minister on his recent re-election and celebrate Israel’s robust democracy at this time when there is much urgent work to be done on all critical issues especially Iran, defense of Israel at the UN and other international bodies and the Palestinian-Israeli peace process," they concluded. "As we pray every evening for our personal security, so do we pray for the well-being of our two nations: ‘God spread over us your shelter of peace and guide us with your good counsel.’”

US responds tepidly to apology

Netanyahu made the apology late Monday night, in a meeting with representatives of minority communities in Israel, including Arab local council heads.

“I know the things I said several days ago offended some of Israel’s citizens, hurt the Arab citizens. I had no intention to hurt anyone and I am sorry if I did," he said. "I see myself as the prime minister of each and every one of you, all the citizens of Israel, regardless of faith, ethnicity or gender."

"I see all citizens of Israel as partners in building a prosperous and secure state, a state for all its citizens," he added.

But Washington rejected Netanyahu's apology outright, with the State Department claiming overnight Monday that they "don't know what to believe at this point," and that they are looking for actions over "more words." 

The remarks are the latest in a string of unusually harsh criticisms the White House has levied toward Israel since Netanyahu's victory, including a set of remarks later Monday night whereby it stated that Israel's "occupation must end."