Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the scene of the shooting attack in Tel Aviv.
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech on Saturday night at the site of the terrorist attack on Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Street could have been very different. Instead of expressing negative generalizations about more than 20 percent of the Israeli population, Netanyahu could have focused on more positive themes.
For instance, the prime minister could have noted that Nashat Milhem, 31, the young man who carried out the attack, was hardly representative of the nation’s Arab population.
Indeed, the man is thought to be mentally unstable.
Netanyahu could have focused on praising the heads of the local council in the Wadi Ara town of Arara, where Milhem lives, for unequivocally condemning the shooting attack. He could have pointed out that there were no calls of solidarity in other Arab towns; rather there was a total disavowal of the despicable act. (The local council of Arara extended condolences to the families of those killed and wished a speedy recovery to the wounded.) Netanyahu might have mentioned Milhem’s father, Muhammad, who is a loyal Israeli citizen. Apparently out of a desire to fight the rampant crime and lax law enforcement within his community, Milhem’s father has volunteered in the Israel Police for the past three decades. And when the father recognized his son in security videos on television he acted responsibly by immediately notifying the police. He has offered to help track down his son.
The prime minister could have noted how key Arab MKs denounced the act of terrorism. Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi (Ta’al) told The Jerusalem Post’s Ariel Ben Solomon, for instance: “We denounce and reject this out of hand. This killing is terrible.” Joint List and Hadash chairman Ayman Odeh similarly condemned the attack, in an interview on Channel 2. Instead, Netanyahu chose words that could deepen the already substantial rift between Arab and Jewish Israelis. “We will demand loyalty to the laws of the state from everyone,” he declared, as though all or most Arab citizens were lawless. He complained about “wild incitement by radical Islam against the State of Israel in the Arab sector,” as though Israel’s Arab sector regularly produced murderous terrorists.
But perhaps the most troubling part of Netanyahu’s speech was his criticism of lawlessness and lax police enforcement in the Arab sector, as though the Arab sector, not consecutive Israeli governments, was solely responsible for the “enclaves with no law enforcement... and an abundance of illegal weapons that are often fired at happy events, weddings, and during endless criminal incidents.”
The truth is that for years Arab-Israeli leaders have been begging governments to do more to improve law enforcement inside Arab towns. Arab Israelis are five times more likely to be killed in violent criminal acts than Jewish Israelis. And there are disproportionately more unsolved murders in the Arab sector than in the Jewish sector.
Yet, the government devotes less resources to law enforcement in Arab “enclaves.” When an Arab kills an Arab the incident is treated with less seriousness than when a Jew kills a Jew, let alone when an Arab kills a Jew. Organized crime and possession of illegal firearms are rampant in Arab towns. And this leads inevitably to more violent deaths.
Homicides are not the only result of such lawlessness.
Lax enforcement of traffic laws also leads to more deaths in Arab towns; the near total lack of master plans for housing construction leads to more illegal – and therefore unsafe – building; discriminatory budgetary decisions whether in education, health or local government undermine Arab Israelis’ trust.
True, Arab citizens can do more to integrate into society.
Doing so would serve their best interests. More Arab youths volunteering for some form of national service within their own communities would strengthen these communities; a more pragmatic approach to politics that puts more emphasis on improving Arab Israelis’ standard of living and less emphasis on the “occupation” would increase the influence of Arab parties in the Knesset.
No conditions should be set, however, for receiving basic rights such as equal funding for health, housing and education, or adequate law enforcement. Arab Israelis are full-fledged citizens of Israel. The vast majority are law-abiding. Milhem’s abominable act, hardly representative of the Arab population, could have been an opportunity for the prime minister to emphasis what Jewish and Arab Israelis have in common. Unfortunately, Netanyahu used it as an opportunity to deepen the divide.