Netanyahu Clashes With Protesters: You Think the Government's Money Grows on Trees

Prime minister stresses success of barrier with Egypt, says Israel would have been 'overflowed with thousands of ISIS fighters' otherwise; Rivlin calls to reach an agreement with the Negev's Bedouin residents.

Activist Shahaf Avital disrupts the prime minister's speech at the Negev Conference in Yeruham on April 12, 2016.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Environmental activists cut off Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech at the Negev Conference on Tuesday in protest over the intent to establish new communities in the south rather than allot funds to existing ones.  

During Netanyahu's speech in the southern town of Yeruham, activists called out "Stop killing the Negev." The prime minister responded, "If you wanted an example of populist politics, you’ve seen one now. The most advanced companies in the world are coming to the Negev. When was that? How do you think workplaces are created? You think that the government's money grows on trees, and that it can be picked and picked. An economy tree should be set up."

"The facts are stronger. We invest billions in the Negev, no other government has done more for the south, you're not impressing anyone."

Shahaf Avital, one of the activists who cut off the prime minister's speech, said that "we disrupted Netanyahu's speech because he spoke of so-called development of the Negev, but it's a misleading statistic. He's establishing new towns for the people who are meant to go down to the Negev and develop existing towns. It creates a bubble of certain populations in the Negev, and it also weakens existing towns whose residents are leaving Yeruham and Dimona to live there."

Among other things, Netanyahu said in his speech that "we must guarantee one prerequisite, and that’s security; there are vast expanses in the Negev and we must protect them. That's why we led the construction of the barrier on the Egyptian border. Think what would have happened had the barrier not been established. We would have been overflowed with thousands of ISIS fighters from Sinai and hundreds of thousands of illegal migrant workers from Africa. The barrier blocked everything. We started doing the same on the Israeli-Jordanian border. Israel is a country surrounded by the zealots of extremist Islam. We must protect our borders."

Netanyahu called on the Bedouin to reach an agreement with the state on the contested issue of land ownership and settlement. "The Negev's growth serves all populations in the area. Everyone is enjoying the benefits of the investment and growth. I call on the Negev's Bedouin residents. We must reach an agreement. It would serve you as much as the state."

President Reuven Rivlin also called during the conference for a negotiated settlement between the state and the Negev's Bedouin residents regarding their future. "The government must understand that in 20 years' time we won't be able to solve the Bedouin problem. We should have started 20 years ago, and the sooner the better." He also called to implement the 2008 Goldberg Report on the matter.  

According to Rivlin, "a negotiated settlement on the status of Bedouin in the south, especially in unrecognized villages, should be reached. All of this from a real and honest understanding that without the settlement of this complex issue, the south will struggle to stride forward."

"The strength of a chain is measured by the resilience of the weakest links. Without investing in people, the investment in infrastructure would go down the drain," he added.

Regarding the economic situation in the Negev, the president said that "while unemployment rates continued to go down, the rate of unemployment in the south reaches 10 percent and even 15 percent. In a number of towns in the Negev it reaches 30 percent. It's unbearable. Apart from the human misery hiding behind these figures, it perpetuates the south's status as a periphery, and some would say a failed periphery."

Negev and Galilee Development Minister Arye Dery also referred to the Bedouin at the conference. "I believe that we are all created in God's image. Fate had it that we would be in the area, and our neighbors, and all of us in this region. Society's strength is to know how to support and encourage the weak. We have a challenge. An opportunity should be given to the young generation that grew up as Israelis in every way to integrate in society and serve in society."