Israel's social 'change' mustn't come at expense of its Arab citizens
In Arab society, the employment rates are much lower than those in Jewish society. Gaps in the investment in education and the lack of employment areas, public transportation and childcare day centers, are just a few of the factors that make it difficult for Arab citizens to fit into the work market.
It was hard to imagine the Trajtenberg Committee recommendations being any less generous to the Arab community, but now it seems that even the little the committee recommended is likely to disappear. All of the Trajtenberg recommendations were indeed approved by the cabinet, but not before changes were introduced at the behest of Yisrael Beiteinu. Budgets that were supposed to deal with the very problems over which the social protest broke out, and to create a society that is more just, turned into political bribes for the natural partners of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In this way, for example, the government changed the criterion for granting help with housing - from the number of children, as the committee recommended, to the earnings of the two spouses. In Arab society, the employment rates are much lower than those in Jewish society. Gaps in the investment in education and the lack of employment areas, public transportation and childcare day centers, are just a few of the factors that make it difficult for Arab citizens to fit into the work market. It is therefore a double injustice to add to these employment difficulties a salary criterion in order to get housing assistance.
An additional change made by the government - likewise responding to a demand from Yisrael Beiteinu - is granting benefits to people who served in the army. Since the establishment of the 18th Knesset, Yisrael Beiteinu has raised numerous proposals that harm the rights of Arab citizens, including the most basic right to equality in the distribution of resources - through the criterion of army service, which sometimes has no bearing whatsoever on the proposed benefit.
An example of this is the party's initiation of a draft law, according to which army veterans will have priority in getting work in the public sector. In other words, this is discrimination against, and exclusion of, groups which anyway suffer from under-representation in the public service - such as Arabs, ultra-Orthodox Jews and persons with disabilities. Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said the draft law turns the public service into "a tool for political goring," while the attorney general, Yehuda Weinstein, wrote to Netanyahu that the proposed law "creates discrimination that is difficult to justify when tested constitutionally ... and is accompanied by a feeling of insult and humiliation which can also be considered as harmful to human rights."
That being the case, it is not possible to justify every benefit by military service. The Trajtenberg Committee thought it right to recommend certain benefits for army veterans but not other benefits. When it was decided that the budget framework should not be breached, making Yisrael Beiteinu's support for the committee's recommendations conditional on excessive benefits to army veterans, it meant that other assistance - to Jews and Arabs - would be negatively affected.
Now the Trajtenberg Committee's recommendations are going to the Knesset and there is a fear that the erosion in the cabinet was merely the opening move. Moshe Gafni, chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee, has already announced that he plans to hold a separate debate on every recommendation, and there is a worrisome possibility that those recommendations relating to populations that are politically excluded will be erased, while the Trajtenberg budgets will be diverted to the benefit of narrow political interests.
Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg must object vociferously to attempts to distort the recommendations his committee submitted. The leaders of the social protest movement - Daphni Leef and Stav Shaffir on the one hand, student leader Itzik Shmuli on the other - without making concessions about their central claim against the recommendations in general, must fight against the appropriation of the Trajtenberg budgets by Knesset members and ministers.
The writers are co-executive directors of the Abraham Fund Initiatives for enhancing coexistence and equality between Jews and Arabs in Israel