Responding to a wave of protest by Israeli Arabs over what they deem a lax police response to violent crime in the Arab community, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said Monday it "is a very, very violent society" with "cultural norms" that promote violence.
Speaking on Radio Jerusalem, Erdan argued violence in the Arab community "has to do with the culture there, where many conflicts that here would end with a legal charge, there they would pull out a knife or a weapon. It has to do with how a mother can give an approval to her son to murder [his] sister because she dates a man the family doesn't like."
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Erdan, whose office is in charge of overseeing the Israel Police, is slated to meet leading Israeli Arab politicians on Thursday, in a bid to find solutions for the uptick in gun violence in the Arab community, but senior lawmaker Ahmad Tibi said his peers are reconsidering the meeting over the minister's latest comments.
However, Erdan's bureau has yet to receive notice of the meeting's cancellation.
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Protesters and community leaders say the Israeli authorities have not been active enough in finding solutions.
Shortly after his interview was aired, the minister said in a tweet his words were "taken out of context," stressing "the main responsibility over fighting crime and violence in the Arab society lays on the government and the police." But he reiterated that "some social norms among parts of the Arab public must be fought."
Ayman Odeh, chairman of Joint List of four Arab-majority parties, said Erdan "prefers to hide behind racist claims and throw responsibility on the victims" instead of "claiming responsibility over the security of all citizens."
"Once again he is dodging the facts," Odeh said, attributing the rise in deadly shooting incidents in recent years to a policy of "abandoning our streets. [Violent] crime in the Arab community is not the product of Arab culture, but of state racism; a ministry who sees us as enemies and refuses to protect us from crime organizations."
Joint List lawmaker Yousef Jabareen said Erdan was "evading responsibility by blaming the victim," arguing that the minister's statement embodies "racist and patronizing" attitudes. "If the police had fulfilled its duties and handled crime as it does in the Jewish society, we wouldn't reach the current levels of crime," he added.
71 murder cases have been reported in the Arab community this year, marking a 20-percent rise since 2018.
In recent days, demonstrators have taken to the streets across the country, calling on the authorities to do more to quell violent crime. Erdan, heavily criticized in the past for his attitudes toward the Arab community, has called the situation an "emergency," but has only presented vague steps to mend it.
Following a meeting between Erdan and police chiefs last week, the force said in a statement it would beef up "relevant areas with hundreds of officers, increase national activity, draft Border Police reserve units … and increase intelligence efforts."
Making his first comments on the situation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday "we must all act responsibly and cooperatively" to combat violence, adding that he had agreed with police on allocating additional manpower and increasing enforcement.