'Equal opportunity for all Israelis'

Gov't approves PM's plan to invest NIS 800 m. in Beduin and Arab communities.

By RON FRIEDMAN
March 21, 2010 14:13
3 minute read.
A Beduin woman and child.

A Beduin woman and child 311 AJ. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

 
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The cabinet on Sunday approved a NIS 800 million stimulus plan for the economic development of minority communities in Israel.

The plan, which was presented to the ministers by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Minority Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman, aims to boost employment, legal construction, public transportation and personal security in 12 selected Arab and Beduin towns.

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The plan passed despite the opposition of the Israel Beiteinu ministers, who said it encouraged disloyalty to the state.

The five-year plan includes NIS 220m. earmarked for the development of 21,000 new jobs, NIS 100m. towards upgrading public transportation, NIS 316m. in planning and development of 15,000 housing units and NIS 150m. towards the operation of anti-violence programs.

The program will begin in 12 localities that were chosen according to population size, leadership stability and socioeconomic condition.

The towns are Maghar, Nazareth, Sakhnin, Shfaram, Umm el-Fahm, Kalansawa, Tamra, Tira, Kafr Kasim, Rahat, Daliat al-Carmel and Usfiya.

The 12 are home to more than 300,000 residents, roughly a quarter of the minority population in Israel.



“It is important to us that, alongside full civil equality before the law – which exists, of course, for all Israelis, that there be equality of economic opportunity in employment, infrastructures, education and quality of life, in the non-Jewish sector,” said Netanyahu.

“Our goal will be to expand the initial plan to many other communities. I think that this is very important in our view of the State of Israel as a regional power and as a global technological power, that all of its Jewish and non-Jewish citizens be able to enjoy the benefits of internal prosperity and progress.”

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said that his office would act to strengthen the minority population in an effort to expand growth.

“In the near future we plan to create an extended stimulus package for the periphery in general and the minority population in particular. Plans like this, that aim to reduce income gaps and increase equality, help strengthen Israel’s growth,” said Steinitz.

Braverman called the government’s decision a “breakthrough” and thanked all the parties involved in putting it together. Braverman said it was an historic shift in the government’s attitude towards minorities that would benefit all residents of Israel.

“This is just the first phase in a multiyear plan. The plan costs NIS 800m., but within five years it will produce more than NIS 3 billion in added revenue from growth,” said Braverman.

“Since I don’t see another million immigrants arriving from Russia in the future, the Arab population is the sector with the largest potential for economic growth in Israel,” he continued.

“Today, minorities make up 20 percent of the population, but only provide for 8% of the gross domestic product. When they earn more, we all stand to benefit. It has nothing to do with politics, it’s simply smart economics.”

But Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov from Israel Beiteinu criticized the plan. He acknowledged that the situation in the non-Jewish authorities required an extensive overhaul, but said it would be wrong for government assistance to go to places and populations whose leaders encourage disloyalty to Israel.

“It is a distorted map and a distorted plan, which encourages disloyalty to the state,” said Meseznikov.

Braverman characterized the criticism and the Israel Beiteinu ministers’ vote against the plan as a ploy to garner votes directed by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

“Their patron told them what to say and how to vote,” Braverman said. “Instead of focusing on foreign policy and fixing the image of Israel he has ruined, he is trying to earn votes by inciting racism. It is completely irresponsible on his part. It may fit into his politics, but it is far from responsible leadership.”

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