Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Sunday that he expects the Arab community to back the state and Israel's police force in the fight against violent crime. He made his comments during the first meeting of the ministerial committee for combatting violence in the Arab community.
The committee approved several general decisions, including involvement by the Shin Bet security service and the Israel Defense Forces in collecting illegal weapons. Shin Bet involvement in criminal issues, rather than national security, is considered unusual.
Bennett also approved a plan to improve cooperation between the various government agencies working on crime in the Arab community. The Justice Ministry has also been order to promote legislation that would “provide more tools” for law enforcement agencies, including a minimum penalty for the possession and selling of weapons.
Bennett said in the meeting that he expects "full cooperation from the Arab community in the war on crime and violence in the Arab community."
The meeting follows the 95th death of a member of the Arab community in violence or crime since the beginning of this year. On Saturday, Mahran Mughrabi succumbed to his wounds after being shot in Haifa the night before. Mughrabi was known to law enforcement, and police believe that the shooting was criminally motivated.
His government "takes the issue very seriously," Bennett said, and that an inter-ministerial team should be assembled, led by Deputy Public Defense Minister Yoav Segalovitz, to focus on eradicating crime in the community.
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Bennett added that "The Arab public must understand that security forces are not the enemy, but the solution – not to blame the state, but to walk hand-in-hand with it."
In order to fight the ongoing crime wave, "I expect that the Arab public – elected officials, Arab public figures, media personalities from the Arab community – will stand behind the police and security forces," Bennett said. "And yes, the entire Arab community must stand behind the state."
The state, he said, has "now been recruited in order to defend its Arab citizens from the plague of crime, from illegal weapons, from murder and extortion. It will take a lot of time, effort and resources…but we're on it. We are working, and we will continue to work."
The Abraham Initiatives, a group that fights for equality between Jews and Arabs in Israeli society, said it welcomes "the government's mobilization to confront the scourge of violence" in Israel's Arab community.
However, the group warned of Shin Bet's involvement in the "war on crime and violence," calling for mechanisms to protect the civil rights of Arab citizens and urging the security service to stop providing immunity to criminals in exchange for cooperation.
It also noted that the current "state of emergency" stems from years of neglect, underdevelopment and discrimination on behalf of the Israeli government towards its Arab citizens, which would need to be redressed in order to fight crime.
The group also welcomed the government's choice to appoint Segalovitz to lead the effort to combat the issue, citing his experience in dealing with organized crime in the country.
Other groups were more skeptical. Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, dubbed the decision a "dangerous step" in a letter addressed to the Prime Minister, Defense Minister, the Shin Bet and the police.
The organization demanded that the army and Shin Bet not be used to fight crime among civilians, stating that the unspecified remit of the crime is in "danger of further violation of the basic rights of Arab citizens."
Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh also attacked the committee's decision: "After decades of the government and the police treating us like a neglected backwater, the last thing we need is more of the same treatment: police for the Jews and Shin Bet for the Arabs.”
Along with the prime minister, the meeting was attended by other cabinet ministers, and the leaders of the Shin Bet, the police and the National Security Council.
Ministerial committees meant to handle crime in the Arab community had been founded in the past, but to little avail. Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared in February, before his election defeat, that he intends on founding a ministerial committee on the issue that he would head.
However, the new committee may have a greater impact than previous attempts because of the large funds that the government is reserving for the Arab community as part of coalition agreements with the United Arab List party. The committee is also supposed to signal how seriously the coalition views the issue.
In August, Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev and Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai, along with Bennett and Segalovitz, presented a national plan for fighting crime in the Arab community.
The plan includes increasing police presence in cities and roads, strengthening the police's intelligence and investigative capabilities, and fighting crime families. The plan also calls for increasing the police force by 1,100 and creating financial bodies that deal with the extortion of protection money. Moreover, the establishment of new police stations and reinforcing existing ones, including near unrecognized Bedouin villages, has already been approved.