Jerusalem: Ahead of legislative elections which are to be held on 2 March this year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised to arrange direct flights between Tel Aviv and Makkah in Saudi Arabia to allow Muslim Palestinians living in Israel to perform their religious pilgrimage comfortably.
“We are working to introduce direct flights from Tel Aviv to Makkah for the benefit of Muslim pilgrims who intend to perform the Hajj,” Netanyahu said in a Facebook post which was later deleted.
Gaining Arab votes
Palestinians living in Israel, for years, have been traveling to Saudi Arabia via Jordan using temporary passports issued by Jordan specifically for this purpose, as Israeli passport holders are not allowed entry to Saudi Arabia.
MK Ahmed Tibi, leader of the Arab Movement for Change, slammed Netanyahu, calling the Facebook post a ‘Bibi-lie’
“Is there anything more pitiful than Netanyahu attempting to win Arab votes by the lie of helping pilgrims?” he asked.
Interviews with Arab media
In another attempt to woo Arab voters, Netanyahu also posted a verse from the Quran on his official Facebook page. The post initially included an explanation about the importance of the Haj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, but it was later removed.
Earlier on Tuesday, Netanyahu posited, in an interview with Israeli Arabic-language channel Hala TV, that in the coming years, there will be direct flights from Israel to Saudi Arabia, dramatically reducing the cost of completing the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca for Israeli Muslims. He expressed the same views in another interview with Arab media.
Ayman Odeh, the chairman of the Arab-led Joint List, slammed Netanyahu for his campaign. “Only a true racist like Netanyahu can think that the Arab citizens are stupid enough to forget that only two months ago, he wrote that we want to obliterate children and women. Two interviews [with Arab media] won’t cover for a decade of incitement and hate,” Odeh stated.
Israel is home to 9 million people, one in five of whom is Arab, including Muslims, Christians, and Druze. They have long complained of being treated as second-class citizens.