Unprecented Investment in Arab Society Suffering Slow Implementation, Official Says

Leaders in the community question whether the government really intends to reduce discrimination in the state budget and follow through on development plans

File photo: Two women wait for public transport in the Israeli-Arab town of Umm al-Fahm.
Muhammed Muheisen / AP

Israel has transferred an unprecedented 5 billion shekels ($1.4 billion) to help the Arab community but progress has been slow, said Ayman Saif, head of the authority for minority development at the Social Equality Ministry.

The government allocated 9.7 billion shekels for the project in 2016, after a tough fight against politicians on the far right. The rest of the money will be used over the next three years, Saif said.

Still, Arab citizens may not fully feel the effect of the 5 billion shekels that have already been used, due to problems in carrying out the project, Saif added.

The allocation was an effort to counter the discrimination faced by Israelis Arabs in the state budget.

The Netanyahu government has also committed to a 1.5-billion-shekel investment over five years for Israel’s Druze community, amid 3 billion shekels for the Bedouin.

But Israeli Arab leaders have been skeptical about these efforts; they question whether the government really intends to reduce discrimination in the budget. These suspicions have continued due to the plan’s slow implementation.

Much of the money transferred so far has gone to government ministries, which are then reallocating it, Saif said. A full 1 billion shekels has gone to Arab local governments to use in development projects, while 750 million shekels has gone to the Housing and Construction Ministry for building public structures and advancing local planning.

Another 1 billion has gone to the Transportation Ministry to improve public transport and pave roads, with 500 million shekels going to the Economy Ministry to develop employment centers.

Saif said Israeli Arabs had noticed improvements in education and employment, but progress on infrastructure has been disappointing. New access roads are still being paved, while construction has not begun on new neighborhoods, he said.