Israeli Arab Councils Announce Strike in Protest of 'Discrimination' in Coronavirus Funds

Leaders say in letter to Netanyahu less than two percent of the national budget is earmarked for Arab towns

Jack Khoury
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Israel Police enforcing coronavirus movement restrictions in Beit Hanina, East Jerusalem, April 16, 2020.
Israel Police enforcing coronavirus movement restrictions in Beit Hanina, East Jerusalem, April 16, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Jack Khoury

Local council heads of Arab towns in Israel are calling for a general strike on Tuesday to protest Israel's failure to allocate enough funds to compensate for losses due to the coronavirus crisis.

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Arab council heads are contending that compensation for the loss of municipal property tax payments from business owners who were forced to close their doors to follow coronavirus restrictions was disproportionately low compared to other localities.

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In an urgent address to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Interior Minister Arye Dery, the officials claimed that out of the 2.82 billion shekels ($804 million) budgeted by the Interior Ministry to aid local authorities, only 47 million were earmarked for Arab municipalities – about 1.7 percent. The municipalities estimate their losses at about 70 million shekels per month since the crisis began.

Meanwhile, the 16 Druze and Circassian local authorities in Israel also announced they will strike on Sunday to protest the "government's refusal to address their demands." This will include closing educational institutions.

Druze and Circassians council heads addressed a letter to the prime minister earlier this month, protesting "discrimination in every field, from the Kaminitz law to the Nation-state law, from budget allocation to coronavirus." 

The Druze and Circassian Local Council Heads Forum says they are the only community without a five-year development plan, and that the government's decision on a temporary budget of 200 million shekels has yet to be implemented.

As the rest of Israel slowly reopens following strict and swift movement restrictions imposed on the country last month, regulations in predominantly Muslim areas remain strict in order to prevent a potential outbreak during the holy month of Ramadan.

Although secular and religious leaders have urged compliance with the rules, and taken tough measures of their own, like keeping schools shut, there was widespread unease within the community. Many fear remaining cloistered for another month will take its toll on residents' morale, as well as on the local economy, with Jewish stores reopening in the rest of the country.

Druze and Circassian leaders said they would protest in front of the prime minister's office in Jerusalem on Sunday, while Arab council heads announced a demonstration would take place in front of the Finance Ministry on Monday.

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