"We must say loud and clear that Israel has made a terrible mistake with its Arab population and we have to change that," Minority Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman said this week.
"Although it is true that in comparison with neighboring Arab countries, Israeli Arabs are well off with a relatively higher income per capita and a higher education, still Israeli Arabs face significant discrimination, and I have a promise from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that this government will take steps to remedy the situation."
Braverman, who is responsible for improving relations with non-Jewish minority populations, said that Arab Israelis are underrepresented in the public sector, with only 6.8 percent of the workforce, while their representation in the general population is more than double that.
Braverman is convinced that Arab Israelis are interested in integrating into society if they are given the feeling that they have an equal opportunity. "When Yitzhak Rabin was prime minister only 7% of Arab Israelis opposed Israel, compared to 20% in 1976 and 23% now." Braverman spoke this week at an iftar - the traditional meal following the daily fast during Ramadan - organized by the Israel Project that was attended by news correspondents representing more than a dozen different Arabic news media outlets.
Marcus Sheff, executive director of the Israel Project in Israel, said that Braverman's appearance was part of a larger project to provide international Arabic media with a different, more positive, perspective on Israeli society.
"There is a tendency to dehumanize Israelis in the Arab media," said Sheff. "We want to shift the dial and show a different aspect of Israeli society. For instance, last week we had [Brig.-Gen.] Yoav Mordechai [head of the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria] talking about how Israel is removing roadblocks in the territories to make life easier for Palestinians - in Arabic.
"It was picked up by all the major Arabic news media outlets. These are the types of things we are trying to do to for a safer Israel and a safer Jewish world."
Meanwhile, Braverman told Arab reporters that there was an Israeli interest in providing Arab Israelis with good education and jobs and to create partnerships.
In an interview, Braverman told The Jerusalem Post that "it is a shame that thousands of Arab Israelis go to Jordanian universities when they can be learning in Israel."
He also lamented inequalities in the allocation of resources. "Look at the poor level of infrastructure. Arab towns don't have proper streets, they don't even have streetlights. Rabin was the only prime minister who did something about it. And [Ehud] Olmert admitted that we made a lot of mistakes.
"I received a promise from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that he would support me. Even right-wing politicians like Bennie Begin understand that it is good for the Jews to help Arab Israelis. I have the privilege together with the education minister, national infrastructures minister and others to make real changes. We have not done what is right for the Israeli Arabs and now we need to adopt a new policy that will encourage them to integrate."
Asked about the recent spate of violence, Braverman said that discriminatory policies against Arabs definitely contribute to their high crime levels. "There is too much hooliganism among both Jews and Arabs. But when Druse and Beduin finish their army service and see they have no future that can cause a lot of frustration.
"Unemployment is the mother of all sins. Many Arab Israelis are concerned about their day-to-day livelihood. They do not get a proper education, they do not have jobs and they have no future. This can sometimes push people to do extreme things."
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