Israeli Arab Councils Strike in Protest of Inadequate Coronavirus Aid Package

Demonstrators also blocked a major highway, protesting continued discrimination since the approval of the controversial Nation-State Law

Jack Khoury
Noa Shpigel
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Joint List MK Ayman Odeh attends a protest organized by Arab authorities, May 4, 2020.
Joint List MK Ayman Odeh attends a protest organized by Arab authorities, May 4, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman
Jack Khoury
Noa Shpigel

Israeli Arab local councils began on Tuesday a general strike, in protest of the government’s failure to forward compensation and budget stipends for the coronavirus crisis. Demonstrators protesting ongoing discrimination also blocked a main thoroughfare in northern Israel.

Council heads held a rally on Monday in Jerusalem outside the treasury and attended a meeting of the Knesset Finance Committee where they decided to shut down municipal services in their communities.

Mudar Younes, chairman of the local Arab councils committee, explained that despite talks with senior Finance Ministry officials and the Interior Ministry’s director on Monday, no progress had been. “It seems the treasury and Interior Ministry don’t really count us,” Younes said. “They say they are showing understanding, but we can’t do anything or function solely on the basis of their understanding.”

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Arab local councils have demanded compensation for the absence of property taxes normally paid by local businesses. In urgent appeals to the prime minister and interior minister this week, they said 2.82 billion shekels ($800 million) had been budgeted for all local councils as compensation for the tax shortfall, and that based on their calculations, Arab councils will receive 47 million shekels, which is only 1.7% of all the compensation. By their calculations, their councils’ losses since the crisis began come to an estimated 70 million shekels a month.

Meanwhile, Druze and Circassian protesters blocked the Elyakim junction of Highway 6, accusing the government of continued discrimination against their communities also with regard to the approval of the controversial Nation-State Law.

Arab authorities members demonstrate against coronavirus budgeting discrimination at the Knesset, May 4, 2020.
Arab authorities members demonstrate against coronavirus budgeting discrimination at the Knesset, May 4, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

Last week, a forum of both communities wrote to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for what they described as “discrimination in every possible realm, from the Kaminitz Law to the Nation-State Law, budgeting and development funds and coronavirus testing.”

The forum said that the Druze and Circassian communities are the only minorities for whom no five-year plan was issued and that they never received a promised 200 million shekels that the cabinet decided to provide them as a temporary measure.

Protesters also blocked Route 70 in northern Israel in driving rain, in coordination with police. They said they were stepping up a protest launched on Sunday with a rally held outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem. Their protests would last through the month, for as long as there is no government response to their demands, they said.

“We just began this morning, there is huge anger and we have a month of protests ahead of us,” said Jaber Hamoud, the head of a forum of Druze and Circassian council heads.

“We will step up the struggle until all our demands are met, first and foremost the flow of promised funds,” Hamoud said.

Protesters unfurled Druze and Circassian flags and chanted “Netanyahu carry out your promises, you betrayed me, my brother.”

“You have betrayed us for a long time and particularly now during corona,” Hamoud said. “The government passed an interim budget of 200 million shekels that were supposed to be sent urgently to Druze and Circassian communities, but the authorities haven’t seen a single shekel of it. That’s like a government check that bounces.”

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