It’s the Israeli Government That Keeps Its Arab Citizens Poor and Powerless

Netanyahu demanded this week that Arab citizens be 'completely Israeli,' but he knows very well they are not — and the state is a big part of the reason.

Netanyahu speaking at the site of an attack that killed two and wounded seven in Tel Aviv, December 2, 2016.
Ofer Vaknin

“I am not willing to accept two countries, one a nation of law for most of its citizens and the other a state within a state for some of its citizens.”

“Whoever wants to be Israeli, should be completely Israeli, both in rights and in obligations,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday night at the site of last Friday’s shootings by, police believe, an Israeli Arab.

It is hard to understand what Netanyahu meant, because at the same time he is well aware that the Jewish majority systematically discriminates against the Arab minority. If he wasn’t aware of that, he should read the 100-page document released last August at the behest of Finance Ministry’s Budgets Director Amir Levy, which documents the extent of the discrimination in great detail.

In every single ministry, in every area of the economy, education, health and housing and in almost every budget item, Arabs are given less money by the state than Jews are. The discrimination is so widespread and consistent, that it can’t be anything other than systematic: Israel ensures that its Arab citizens remain poor and powerless, isolated, weak and uneducated.

“In enclaves where there is no law enforcement, there is Islamist incitement and there are plenty of weapons, which often are used to shoot at events such as weddings, and for criminal actions, too. This era is over .... I have formulated a plan, with a lot of money, a lot of resources. Israel will enforce the law and its sovereignty — in the Galilee, the Triangle, everywhere. We will recruit more police officers, we will enter their communities and demand loyalty to the country from everyone,” said Netanyahu. “It’s impossible to say, ‘I am Israeli when it comes to rights and Palestinian when it come to obligations.’ Whoever wants to be Israeli, must be Israeli to the end, both in rights and obligations,” he said.

Netanyahu was certainly enraged by the incident, as are the vast majority of Israelis, including Arabs. It was impossible to mistake the firm, unequivocal condemnation of the attack by the Arab community, its leadership, and even the family of the suspected murderer.

To a great extent, this disavowal of the murderer by Israeli Arabs was much clearer, more lucid and unequivocal than that of religious Zionists towards the murder of the Dawabsheh family in Duma, or the brutal murder of the teenager Mohammed al-Khdeir in Jerusalem in 2014. One can assume that we will not see Israeli Arabs come out to protest in front of the home of the head of the Shin Bet security service if the alleged murderer is caught and investigated.

Netanyahu noted the clear disavowal of the Arab community of the murders and murderer, but then spoke as if he didn’t. His reference to “two states,” one of which is law abiding and another that doesn’t recognize Israeli sovereignty and isn’t loyal to the country, did not leave a lot of room for reconciliation or coexistence. Neither did Netanyahu’s dramatic declaration at the end: “Whoever wants to be Israeli, must be totally Israeli, both in rights and obligations,” a clear attempt to undermine the status of Israeli Arabs as Israeli citizens in every way.

‘Not completely Israeli’

Netanyahu knows that Israeli Arabs are not completely Israeli first and foremost because the Jewish majority does not treat them as Israelis. The need to be “totally Israeli” must be directed not only at the weak minority, but at the aggressive majority too, which tramples and abuses the rights of the minority on the road to clear national discrimination.

Yes, national discrimination is the policy that Israel has adopted towards its Arab citizens. It is all documented in the 100-page report written by TASC Strategic Consulting and signed off on by the Finance Ministry, and the Ministry for Social Equality and Netanyahu’s own bureau.

It is easy to start with the point Netanyahu focused on, namely crime. Even though they are only 21% of the population, Arab citizens account for 44% of all robberies, 50% of assaults against police and, worst of all, 56% of all murders.

What is the government doing to deal with this plague? It turns out that the under-budgeting of resources to the Arab sector includes the area of policing. The TASC report does not cite an exact figure for how many police officers are assigned to Arab communities, but it notes that the figure is much lower than the Arabs’ share of the overall population. The report found that only 1.2% of all police personal are Muslim police officers and while the police’s “City Without Violence” program allocates a proportional 20% of its budget to Arab towns, you would expect the amount to be higher given the high levels of crime among Arab communities. Police officers receive almost no training on the proper approach to dealing with the Arab community.

Yet despite severe underpolicing, Netanyahu insists that the problem of criminality is because Arabs aren’t law abiding and have huge numbers of illegal weapons.

It’s not just in policing that the policy of “let’s neglect handling the problems of the Arab community and then blame it for the problems” is practiced. The poor state of roads and other infrastructure in Arab municipalities makes it easy to blame the Arabs. “They are corrupt,” “they only worry about their own families,” “they don’t collect local property taxes.”

All these claims are true, but they are all trivial compared to the true problems Arab local authorities have to deal in the face of gross discrimination. The TASC report, for example, shows that the per capita budget for the residents of Arab towns is 10% less than Jewish towns with the weakest socioeconomic profiles and 45% lower than the well off ones. Arab local authorities typically collect 60% less in taxes and fees from residents than Jewish ones; they collect 85% less from businesses.

A taxing problem

True, part of this inequality in revenues comes from low rates of tax collection. The average Arab municipality collected only 58% of taxes due it, compared with 73% even in the poorest Jewish towns. But it turns out that most of this uncollected revenue is because residents can’t pay relatively high tax rates and there is little in the way of tax revenues from business since there are so few factories, offices and shopping areas within the jurisdiction of Arab towns. Business and commercial space in Arab municipalities is 50% to 85% less than in even the weakest Jewish communities, or Jewish towns in the periphery.

Arab municipalities could do more to collect taxes, but the heart of the problem is that they have no one to collect from.

If there is an absence of business one reason is a shortage of land for development. Arab local authorities struggle to promote property development, but the central government should be stepping in as it does for Jewish municipalities with the same challenges.

The problem of business and employment is exacerbated by the lack of entrepreneurship in the Arab community, which accounts for only 10% of all businesses, half their share of the overall population. Only 3% of these are large businesses and the vast majority are in construction and transportation, two sectors that employ mainly unskilled, low paid workers. In other words, even if Arab municipalities were to develop their land, there would not be much for them to do with it.

So what is left for Arabs seeking jobs? To commute. But here, too, Arab communities contend with a serious problem of discrimination, in this case poor public transportation. On average, Arab towns have 60% less access to public transportation services than Jewish communities with the same population.

The daycare barrier

All this makes it difficult to accuse the hidebound traditionalism of Arab society for the fact that only 32% of Arab women work, a much lower rate than for Jewish women. The claim that it is the chauvinism of Arab men that is keeping the Arab women from working is even more problematic when we look at one of the most important barriers to the employment of women: Daycare. Only 1% of Arab children up to age three go to day care, compared to 7% of Jewish children. Only 4.5% of Arab children are in any daycare format at all, compared with 9% of Jewish children. The government allocates 20% of its daycare budget to Arab communities, the same as their proportion of the total population, while ignoring the fact that there is a higher birthrate among Arab families, and the need to make up for decades of inequality.

It is not that the Jews are guilty of everything that is wrong in Arab communities — in fact there are even a few rays of light where the state is trying to help with an active program of affirmative action. The biggest hope is last week’s cabinet decision to launch a five-year program for the Arab sector, in response to the shocking findings of the TASC report. Even the Netanyahu government was forced to correct at least some of this discriminatory budget allocation.

At least the government, if not Netanyahu, is finally opening its eyes and acknowledging years of systematic discrimination against Israel’s Arab citizens.