PMO official blocked from adopting dog because of Arab identity

Panel discusses Jewish Nation-State Law, Arab sector issues.

Aiman Saif (C-L) speaks at a conference, January 28th, 2019 (photo credit: YONAH JEREMY BOB)
Aiman Saif (C-L) speaks at a conference, January 28th, 2019
(photo credit: YONAH JEREMY BOB)
A senior government official was denied the right to adopt a dog at a rescue center in Hadera because he is an Arab.
Aiman Saif, former Prime Minister’s Office head of economic development for non-Jewish minorities, discussed the discrimination which he encountered as part of a panel on the Arab sector and the Jewish Nation-State Law at the Institute for National Security Studies conference in Tel Aviv on Monday.
Saif said that as he was discussing adopting a dog from the Hadera center, the official there informed him that they had guidelines preventing them from allowing Arabs to adopt dogs. He mentioned the story to describe the “very challenging” situation of Israeli-Arabs in Israel even as they benefit from Israel being “an advanced country.”
“There are good things in the Arab sector, but there are many gaps... There is still racism,” he said.
Saif said that in his role in the Prime Minister’s Office, there had been significant progress, with the government investing in the Arab sector after 60 years of ignoring it.
He said that by 2008, Israeli officials realized that they must invest in both the Arab and haredi sectors or the country would not reach its goals in the rankings among developed economies.
From 2008 to 2015, he said, the government started to invest more in the Arab sector. But he said that it was only after 2015 that the government finally agreed to invest over NIS 11 billion, adding that the government has already transferred NIS 6 billion to local authorities to improve the Arab sector.
While this is a big achievement, he said it took decades to accomplish and that neither Jewish nor Arab officials are prepared to properly use the funds. He estimated that 20%-25% of the funds sent to local officials were eventually sent back to the Finance Ministry after going unused for an extended period.
The former official said that this failure to use allocated funds, which are desperately needed, greatly troubled him since he had fought so hard to obtain them and that this shows the complexity of solving Arab sector issues. Multiple panelists were concerned that Saif has not been replaced since he stepped down from his role in May.
Another member of the panel, Israel Democracy Institute Arab-Jewish Relations director Nasreen Hadad Haj-Yahya, said that it is highly problematic that a majority of Jewish citizens in Israel do not want Israeli-Arab parties to be able to join governing coalitions. She said that more than 80% of Israeli-Arabs want their parties to be able to serve in governing coalitions and their MKs to serve as ministers.
Lawyer Mohammad Watad surprised the crowd, though, saying that he did not view the Jewish Nation-State Law as problematic from a legal point of view. Rather, he said the main issue was the message the government sent by passing the law, which appeared to intentionally elevate Jews in a way that disenfranchised Arab citizens.
Watad also warned that: “People are sending democracy backwards to an old understanding… when any majority could do whatever they wanted.” He said that the lesson learned from the fall of pre-World War II democracies into fascism was that, “democracy is not the rule of the majority, but how to limit the majority” - and protect minorities who “lack the political power to defend” themselves in parliament.