Israel’s Arab community is bracing for the appointment of Itamar Ben-Gvir as public security minister, fearing what might happen when the Otzma Yehudit leader – whose racist election campaign was directed against Arabs – assumes the post.
The outgoing government set the fight against crime in Arab society as one of its central goals. Senior public security officials including the minister visited police stations in or near Arab communities as a matter of course and held frequent meetings with the heads of Arab local governments.
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Despite the unimpressive improvement in Israeli Arabs’ personal safety in the past year, police officers say considerable efforts were put into fighting crime, especially organized crime and murder. Since the beginning of the year 91 people were murdered in the Arab community, compared to 111 in the previous year, Haaretz has found.
The local government heads fear that with the appointment of Ben-Gvir, they and other Arab public figures may no longer have an open door to the minister’s office.
“Over the years the local government leaders built their ties with ministers and not with ministry officials. This was a mistake. Today they have a problem with Ben-Gvir. I think the solution is to work with the civil servants and professional police officers, because we’re dealing with a very dangerous minister,” says criminologist Dr. Walid Hadad.
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However, outgoing Deputy Public Security Minister Yoav Segalovitch believes that personal ties between ministers and local authority heads is necessary. “You can’t address fighting crime without a partnership and a good relationship with the local authority heads and local community leaders. Civil society organizations must also lead cooperation with ministries. Ultimately it all comes down to the Arab citizens’ personal safety.”
The heads of the Arab local authorities haven’t formed a joint opinion about the relations with the designated minister. Arara council head Mudar Yunes, who is also head of the Committee of Arab Local Authorities, told Haaretz that the local leaders will continue working with the civil service in all the ministries, regardless of who the minister is.
Committee members Omar Nassar, who is mayor of Arabeh, and Dr. Samir Mahamid, mayor of Umm al-Fahm, believe the committee must take a united position. “I think taking a united stand is required,” said Mahamid. “In recent years we did so and it advanced quite a few issues. So when the government is formed the committee must decide about the ties with Ben-Gvir, taking all the considerations into account, including the fact that Ben-Gvir is Rabbi Kahane’s follower,” says Mahamid, referring to the founder of Kach, who was banned from running for the Knesset for inciting racism.
Nassar sees Ben-Gvir’s appointment as part of the problem, not part of he solution to the violence and crime in Arab society, due to his racist anti-Arab views. “We must prepare to fight against his racist policy in every situation,” he says.
Shfar’am Mayor Ursan Yasin says he will cooperate with Ben-Gvir. “I have no interest in Ben-Gvir’s doctrine and ideology. I work with a minister in the Israeli government,” says Yasin, who is a Likud member.
Ben-Gvir’s statements against the Arabs were made during the election campaign – when he enters office he may act differently, says Yasin. “There have been ministers who were categorized as radical right, like [Avigdor] Lieberman, [Ariel] Sharon and others, and in the end they worked with the local authority heads and cooperated on a professional level.”
Prominent figures in the Arab community say the new government’s first test will be in the Negev and in the mixed Arab-Jewish cities, which were the site of rioting during Operation Guardian of the Walls last May.
“If anyone thinks he can improve security in Be’er Sheva, Netivot or Yeroham, while oppressing Rahat and Tel Sheva – he’s making a big mistake,” says outgoing Rahat Mayor Sheikh Faiz Abu Shiban, referring to the two Bedouin communities. “If the policy is to hurt the Bedouin and they feel tired and exhausted, then everyone in the Negev will be tired and exhausted.”
Activists in the mixed cities say the statements of Ben-Gvir and other soon-to-be ministers about who’s the boss are a cause for concern. Lod council member and social activist Fida Shechada says Ben-Gvir and most of the Netanyahu bloc parties led campaigns against Arabs and against a government with Arab partners. “And then they come to talk about solutions to crime and violence in the Arab community. We’re not buying it. Today it’s easy to get firearms, and now with Ben-Gvir the legitimacy to do so will increase,” she says.