Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Wednesday the appointment of retired police Maj. Gen. Aharon Franco, who is to direct the government’s efforts to combat violence in the Arab community.
Franco has served as the commander of the Jerusalem police district as well as commissioner of the Israel Prison Service. In the past, Franco called Muslim Israelis “ungrateful” for clashing with the police, but Netanyahu said he has “excellent relations with the leaders of Arab communities.” In a break with usual practice, Netanyahu held his press conference Wednesday at the national police headquarters in Jerusalem.
Crime has been a major issue in the Israeli Arab community, and Franco’s appointment is coming at a time when Netanyahu has reached out to members of the community in the run-up to the Knesset election on March 23. The move has prompted speculation over whether the prime minister’s right-wing Likud party can attract significant support among Arab voters.
“Following great effort, we have formulated a plan that will bring about a true revolution in Arab society,” Netanyahu said. “As part of this plan, mayors have asked for one thing. They said: ‘We are asking to appoint a special project manager on your behalf.’ This plan should not only provide personal safety, not only preserve life, but also the quality of life and all the components of the aspects of life in the Arab communities of the Arab citizens of Israel, who are an integral part of Israeli society.”
The prime minister outlined two plans, one immediate and another for the longer term. The immediate plan includes confiscation of weapons in Arab towns and an allocation of 100 million shekels ($30 million) for the construction of police and fire stations in Arab locales.
In addition, the plan calls for the establishment of new social welfare institutions and a team headed by the National Security Council to prevent the spread of weapons possession. Another 50 million shekels is to be spent in part on a new police crime prevention division.
The plans require cabinet approval, and it is not clear if or when they would be brought to a cabinet vote and whether they would be approved.
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Knesset member Ayman Odeh, who chairs the Joint List faction of Arab parties, was critical of the plan, which he called nothing more than an “election ploy on the backs of Arab murder victims” and an inadequate “band aid” for the problem. A plan that seriously addresses the issue must first eliminate the source of funding for organized crime, shut down trade in unauthorized goods and put an end to the payment of protection money, Odeh said.
Hundreds of thousands of illegal weapons that are “destroying our lives” must be confiscated and stolen army weapons must not get into the hands of Arab citizens. Criminals must be indicted and prisoners rehabilitated, the Joint List chairman said.
“It’s impossible to solve a decade of police neglect with just 100 million shekels. This sum is not even entirely dedicated to the fight against crime organizations but [also] to build police stations, construction of which could continue for months and years,” and only lead to more fines and parking tickets, Odeh claimed.
United Arab List chairman Mansour Abbas, who chairs the Knesset’s Special Committee on Eradicating Crime in Arab Society, was also critical of the plan. “What was presented is not sufficient and the cabinet needs to approve a comprehensive plan to fight violence at a cost of 3 billion shekels. These steps have come very late and are intended to treat the consequences of the violence and not the roots of the problem.”
The plan Netanyahu presented is based on a program proposed last year by a committee of ministry directors general following protests in 2019 over violence in the Arab community. Against the backdrop of the rising violence, Netanyahu met twice in recent weeks with representatives of the committee of Arab mayors, who presented their own proposal.
For his part, Joint List Knesset member Ahmad Tibi commented, “There’s crime in Arab society” in Israel “and there’s crime against Arab society. The crime in Arab society is a cancer that has to be fought and eradicated. The crime against Arab society is racism,” he said.