Netanyahu Facebook election message that 'Arabs want to destroy us all' sparks uproar

The rallying cry has prompted uproar from Arab and left-wing politicians ahead of the September 17 vote

Israeli-Arab Knesset member Ayman Odeh (L) uses a phone to take a close-up picture of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the main Knesset chamber in Jerusalem on September 11, 2019. A rare clash erupted between Netanyahu and Joint List Chairman Odeh on September 11 at the Knesset during a discussion ahead of a vote on a controversial, Likud party-sponspored bill to allow cameras in polling booths. / AFP / Gil COHEN-MAGEN
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An election message sent out by the Facebook page of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has sparked uproar after it said that his supporters head to the polls to stop a government that "relies on Arabs who want to destroy us all".

The chatbot message was trying to sway undecided voters to vote for the longtime Israeli premier.

It read: "We cannot have a dangerous left-wing government...a secular left-wing weak government that relies on Arabs who want to destroy us all – women, children and men, and will enable a nuclear Iran that will eliminate us. We cannot allow this to happen!"

Facebook moved on Thursday to suspend Likud's access to automatic messaging for 24 hours, saying that the content violated its policy on hate speech.

Ayman Odeh, the leader of the Joint List, a coalition of Arab and left-wing parties, condemned the message.

"We turned to Facebook. They must act immediately to put an end to this racist and dangerous incitement by Netanyahu against the Arab population," he said.

Arabs make up 21 per cent of Israel's population and generally vote not for Likud but for their own Arab parties or centrist or left-wing Jewish parties.

Mr Netanyahu's Likud party tried to paint the message as a mistake made by a worker at the party.

"Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu didn't see these things [and] did not approve them. They are not his opinion and are not accepted by him. When these things were brought to his attention he asked that they be removed immediately," the statement said.

But other Joint List politicians said even if the post was a mistake, it showed the character of Mr Netanyahu's party.

"Netanyahu has finally crossed the line of sanity," said Hadash-Taal politician Ofer Cassif. "Such a blatant and explicit Nazi statement should shock and terrify every person, on the left and on the right. Even if the words were publicised by mistake, the commander's spirit is clear."

The person who could end Mr Netanyahu's position at the top of Israeli politics is a man who is even more known for his anti-Arab views.

Former defence minister Avigdor Lieberman looks set to be the kingmaker in any coalition formed after the election. He is often accused of racism for branding Arab politicians as enemies of the state and advocating for population swaps that would place many Arab citizens outside Israel's borders.