Netanyahu Slammed After Rare Appearance at Meeting to Tackle Violence in Arab Community

Prime minister's surprise attendance is described by one lawmaker as attempt to 'divide and rule,' as disagreements among Joint List alliance of Arab parties intensify

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Benjamin Netanyahu visits Ben-Gurion International Airport, November 2020.
Benjamin Netanyahu visits Ben-Gurion International Airport, November 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made on Monday a rare appearance before the Knesset committee for eradicating violence in the Arab community, in what several Joint List lawmakers blasted as “hypocritical” and hollow.

The prime minister – who was joined by Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin and Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, all members of ruling Likud party – does not often attend Knesset committees in general.

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In Monday's meeting, he said that the Arab community “deserves the same basic services as the rest of Israel’s citizens.”

Netanyahu drew a comparison between regional developments and the cooperation required within the country’s borders, saying that “cooperation between Jews and Arabs, between Israelis and Arab countries, that’s something that didn’t exist – it just didn’t exist. Possibilities that sounded imaginary are being realized before our eyes. This revolution that we are carrying out outside of the State of Israel’s borders, we must also carry out within the State of Israel’s borders.” The prime minister further said that cooperation was already showing results and that “I believe that together, we can accomplish wonderful things here, and we are doing that.”

Members of the Joint List, a coalition of Arab-majority parties, criticized Netanyahu’s participation.

“The Arab public is hungry to put an end to the crime epidemic” and has had enough of Netanyahu’s “empty promises,” said Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh.“We won’t flatter a prime minister who incites against us or to an acting police commissioner who claims our culture is violent,” said Odeh, and the “the only measure of the crime eradication program will be the decrease in the number of murders, and not the increase in the number of promises heard from ministers.”

Joint List lawmaker Mtanes Shehadeh took to Twitter to say that Netanyahu was “on a public relations campaign at the expense of the Arab public” and “handing out compliments to himself and the inadequate plan he brought.”

Last week, Shehadeh condemned what he suggested was a concerted effort to undermine the coalition of Arab-majority parties. “Netanyahu is trying to disband the Joint List,” Shehadeh said, and pointed to a tactic of “divide and rule, by providing certain privileges to MKs from the Joint List,” referring to cooperation between Mansour Abbas, the committee’s chairman, and the prime minister.

“Netanyahu, who is responsible for the rise of crime in the Arab community, is deceiving Joint List lawmakers,” he continued. “Out of the blue, he accepted the invitation to take part in the committee to eradicate violence in the Arab community, and to put forward a plan that we oppose.”

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn, who has been working on a plan to combat rising violence in the community in cooperation with members of the Joint List, was not invited to the meeting.

During the discussion, Abbas praised the police, prompting fellow Joint List lawmakers Heba Yazbak and Aida Touma-Sliman to leave in protest, noting the 88 murders in the community in 2019, many of them unsolved, and police brutality.Touma-Sliman also condemned the “hypocrisy” of Netanyahu and his ministers: “They were not interested in violence in Arab society when dozens were murdered. Netanyahu is part of the problem, not the solution.”

Abbas has also come under criticism for saying on Thursday that he did not rule out backing legislation freezing criminal investigations of Netanyahu. In a radio interview, Abbas said the issue was not relevant for the moment and that if a vote arose, it would be discussed among the Joint List.

Abbas, who serves as deputy speaker of the Knesset, was at the heart of a dispute last month between the opposition and the coalition, following the cancellation of an electronic vote on the Meretz party’s proposal to establish a parliamentary inquiry into allegations of corruption related to the purchase of German-made submarines. Abbas supported Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin in cancelling the vote, derailing the initiative.