The following is what transpired when the government clumsily attempted to eradicate the serious crime epidemic in Arab society.
On Sunday afternoon, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett convened the special task force of cabinet members he’d formed for the mission. The meeting was attended by ministers and senior officials from the relevant ministries (justice, public security, internal affairs, finance and even social services), as well as police and security service representatives.
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Who wasn’t there? Senior Defense Ministry officials and members of the Israel Defense Forces. And yet, at the end of the session, the Prime Minister’s Office published a summary, announcing that “it was decided to take focused action in dealing with illegal weapons, in cooperation with the IDF and the Shin Bet security service.”
The problematic inclusion of the Shin Bet was known in advance, but the IDF? No one understood the great sensitivity of throwing in that little extra word – the IDF – without any explanation, into a discussion of policing Arab citizens, and during the month of October at that, a period in which they commemorate past clashes with Israel’s security forces?
The Defense Ministry and IDF raised an eyebrow as well, with denials of their involvement quick to follow, along with explanations that this involved only incidents of theft from the army and arms smuggling. This reply was even stranger than the first misstep. Does the IDF need the government to tell it to prevent theft and smuggling of weapons? Hasn’t it been doing so up to now?
The lame joke continued on Monday, when Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev released an official clarification stating that “the ministers’ discussion on fighting crime in Arab communities did not mention in any way the need for the involvement of the army in this campaign, and the IDF has no role in the plan spearheaded by the Public Security Ministry I lead. In the entire three hours of the discussion, the IDF was only mentioned in the context of theft on its bases and its prevention.”
The missteps, denials and contradictions really don’t help in building trust. Dealing with the crime wave in Arab communities does not require the IDF, but rather some basic dialogue and exchange of information with the target population. The rest of that announcement was also worryingly vague. It noted that Bennett had approved “the work plan presented by Deputy Minister Yoav Segalovitz, in which operations would be conducted in cooperation with other relevant ministries and agencies,” and that “the Justice Ministry would promote laws that would provide various enforcement agencies with extra tools, including the imposing of minimum sentences for possession of or trading in weapons.” Declaring a plan for working with all relevant agencies without providing any details is like muttering “The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain” - meaningless mumbo-jumbo.
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Regarding the “laws to be promoted by the Justice Ministry,” the reality behind these words will lead to a further erosion in the status of Israel’s Arab citizens, since in order to eradicate crime among them, the state will grant authority they would never grant in any other location in Israel. House searches without a warrant are an example of “other measures” the ministry is planning especially for Arab citizens. The setting of minimum sentences is even opposed by the Public Defense Office in the Justice Ministry itself. It recently submitted a report on this matter, determining that the result would be a revolving door into prisons for people falling into a criminal life for the first time.
Bennett is right in saying that the grave situation on the ground, with almost daily murders, is a result of “years of neglect and of looking the other way.” He and Bar-Lev are also right in saying that one shouldn’t expect the solution to take just a few days. But meanwhile, the chosen path is tortuous. Turning the problem into a security issue, letting the Shin Bet loose on Israeli citizens while ignoring deep-rooted social issues that have led to this situation, could end up in a long-lasting tragedy, similar to what happened in the U.S. with addressing crime in Black communities. If Bennett and Bar-Lev are interested in avoiding this, they should involve the Public Defense Office before they involve the army.