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US State Department accuses Netanyahu, Likud of spreading hate against Palestinian-Israelis

A Palestinian woman casts her vote during Israel's election in April. [Getty]

Date of publication: 13 March, 2020

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The US State Department accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of promoting hatred against Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party has come from an unlikely place.

The United States State Department, in its annual global human rights report published on Wednesday, accused Netanyahu of promoting hatred against Palestinian citizens of Israel, Haaretz reported.

The report criticised the prime minister's party for placing cameras at polling stations in majority-Palestinian towns during Israel's April general election.

The US State Department report also made headlines this week for its description of East Jerusalem Palestinians as "Arab residents" or "non-Israeli citizens".

In its report from last year, the State Department described East Jerusalem Palestinians as "Palestinian residents of Jerusalem" in sections on civil judicial procedures, discrimination and freedom of movement.

The change in terminology prompted criticism from Palestinians, who have accused the Trump administration of being overtly favourable to Israel since the US recognised Jerusalem as the so-called capital of Israel.

But pro-Palestinian critics of the State Department may be surprised to find multiple points with which they agree in the report's Israel chapter.

The chapter includes a subsection on the rights of minority populations in Israel, Haaretz reported. Palestinian residents of Israel, commonly referred to as Arab Israelis, make up one fifth of Israel's population.

Although Israel received praise from the US for hiring an increased number of Palestinian-Israelis for government positions, the report took aim at Netanyahu's Likud party for its actions during the April election.

"In April the ruling Likud Party placed cameras in predominately Arab polling stations in an effort to dissuade Arab voter turnout," the report reads.

During April's vote, Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party deployed activists with cameras at polls in Palestinian communities. The party said it was combating voter fraud, but critics said the point was to intimidate and deter minority voters.

Likud also proposed a bill allowing parties to film at polling stations ahead of the country's September election but this failed to pass. Israel's elections committee had also previously ruled against the Likud plan to have cameras at polling stations in Arab communities during parliamentary elections.

The human rights report also noted instances of anti-Palestinian messages in Likud campaigning.

"During the April and September national election campaigns, the Likud Party deployed messages promoting hatred against Arab citizens, including a chatbot message on Prime Minister Netanyahu's Facebook page saying, 'the Arabs want to destroy all of us, women, children and men,'" the report states. 

The chatbot was suspended by Facebook for violating hate speech policies.

Israel headed to the polls earlier this month after general elections in April and September last year failed to pave the way out of the country's political deadlock.
 
Read more: Palestinians slam 'unconscionable' US move describing East Jerusalem Palestinians as 'non-Israeli citizens'

Although Prime Minister Netanyahu won a majority of seats, he is still three seats short of forming a majority coalition in the knesset.

The US State Department report, which provides a country-by-country breakdown of human rights, criticised Hamas and the Palestinian Authority for human rights violations, as it has done in previous years.

The Palestinian Authority and Hamas were criticised for "violence and threats of violence targeting LGBTI persons" and "the criminalisation of consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults".

Agencies contributed to this report.

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