Why Does Haneen Zoabi Say Such Things?

Maybe because she is the voice of a community suffering alienation and discrimination. The government should be addressing that by spending its money more equitably

Meirav Arlosoroff
Meirav Arlosoroff
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The Israeli Arab town of Tamra in the Galilee.
The Israeli Arab town of Tamra in the Galilee. Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Meirav Arlosoroff
Meirav Arlosoroff

Haneen Zoabi, the Balad party Knesset member and firebrand, set off a storm last week when she asserted that the kidnappers of the three teenagers in Gush Etzion were not terrorists. But the fact that a distant relative of Zoabi’s expressed the exact opposite sentiments on the Internet shows that the Arab population in Israel is not all made of the same material — that among the 1.6 million Arabs living here there is a wide range of opinions.

Yet there is no doubt that Zoabi’s comments are worrying. That’s not just because in the eyes of the Jewish majority (which does not acknowledge the pluralism of opinion in the Arab community) she stains the entire Arab population, but because she raises delicate questions of the level of identification with the state felt by many Israeli Arabs.

It is no secret that many Arab Israelis feel alienated from their country. The treatment they receive from it increases this alienation, which is likewise no secret. In practice, the commission of national inquiry into the events of October 2000, the Or Committee, quoted evaluations from the Shin Bet security service in the months before those bloody riots that the socioeconomic discrimination Israeli Arabs suffer was pushing them to develop extreme positions.

Former Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin said similar things in 2008. “For most of the last 60 years, Israeli Arabs have been loyal to the country, including during the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War and during the waves of terror that followed them,” he noted.

In Diskin’s view, most Israeli Arabs want to live in Israel, but the Israeli government had failed to make any proactive effort to “connect Israeli Arabs to the country,” which complicates their identity crisis. The Shin Bet has been encouraging the government not to neglect the issue; indeed, it is the Shin Bet that has served in recent years as the most powerful voice inside the establishment for helping the Israeli Arab minority, he insisted at the time.

If so, then the Shin Bet was the first to warn that the continued discrimination against Israeli Arabs is strengthening their feelings of alienation.

Without taking away Zoabi’s personal responsibility for what she said, it seems Israel’s Jewish majority also bears responsibility for the discrimination and alienation suffered by Israeli Arabs. It is especially saddening that despite warnings for years by the Shin Bet that this state of affairs threatens Israel’s security by alienating such a large segment of the population, it is just as much the case today as it was in 2000 and 2008.

Stark numbers

The Knesset Research and Information Center published a study this month at the request of MK Basel Ghattas (Balad) that puts in very stark economic terms just how poorly Israel’s Arabs are treated. The center examined the percentage of the budgets of relevant government ministries that are allocated to Arab citizens.

Israeli Arabs make up 20.6% of Israel’s population, with three quarters of them living in wholly Arab communities and the remaining quarter living in mixed cities like Haifa.

So a policy of fiscal equality would ensure that the government allocated 15% to 20% of its budget to Arab citizens. But the results of the center’s study, using figures for 2012 and 2013, paints a picture of stunning inequality .

For example, in the Housing and Construction Ministry, only 0.3% of public housing units are in Arab communities while the number of Arab citizens who received public housing in the past two years is zero. The percentage of Arabs who received government-subsidized mortgage benefits was 3.8%, and they received only 2.3% of all mortgage loans. Of various funds provided by the ministry to towns to supplement their budgets, Arab communities received just 9%.

The Social Affairs Ministry presented an even worse picture. Arabs are the poorest population group in Israel, with 54% living under the poverty line. But only some 11% to 12% of ministry funds allocated to local authorities go to Arab municipalities. Only 1% to 2.7% of the ministry’s allocations to nonprofit organizations go to organizations in the Arab community.

Next it is worth taking a look at the Agriculture Ministry, which recently became the lead ministry in the handling of many problems facing the Arab population. Indeed, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave the ministry the responsibility for dealing with the Bedouin population, which is Israel’s poorest by far. But just how problematic this decision was can be seen in the ministry’s treatment of Arab Israelis until now.

A large proportion of Israeli Arabs live in rural communities, so the percentage of farmers among them is relatively high, yet Arab farmers are almost absent from the ministry’s spending: Israeli Arab farmers received between 0.4% and 3.4% of the ministry’s funding allocations.

The Culture and Sports Ministry is not much better, the Knesset Research Center reports. Here just 4.1% of the ministry’s total budget went to supporting culture and sports in Arab communities. The Interior Ministry is similar, with just 13% of the religious-service budgets going to the Arab population. Only 8% of local ministry offices are in Arab towns.

In fact, only 0.2% of the property taxes paid by the government for facilities such as government offices, military bases or the state-owned Israel Electric Corporation flow into the coffers of Arab communities.

Equal when mandated

The study determined that only those government offices required by law to provide preferential funding based on socioeconomic conditions provide Arab communities with reasonable budgets. For example, using a budget formula that has been approved by the High Court of Justice, the Interior Ministry provides the least well-off local authorities with the biggest grants — so 39% of the total is allocated to Arab municipalities.

The Culture Ministry complained that the figures are inaccurate and do not represent all the funds allocated to Arab communities, TheMarker examined the ministry’s claims and found that in fact another 6% of its budget is directed at the Arab population, but is not identified as such in the budget.

But other ministries TheMarker spoke to did not dispute the Knesset Research Center’s claims. The housing and social affairs ministries admitted there was a problem with their budgetary-allocation criteria, and said they are making efforts to change this and close the gaps.

Government ministries at least recognize the existence of budgetary discrimination and there are signs of attempts to solve the problem. First of all, recognition that there is discrimination is already a major step, but it is certainly not enough, says Ghattas, who has placed a motion before the Knesset regarding funding for Arab communities in the 2015 state budget.

While the Finance Ministry and others responsible for the situation always say we must “invest in Arab society, which for generations has been neglected and discriminated against,” notes Ghattas, such declarations have never been supported by strategic plans and the funding to make them happen. Without a clear policy of equality for the 2015 budget, Ghattas says, the discrimination and inequality will be with us tomorrow, too.

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