Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich ignored an appeal from National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi to release NIS 200 million earmarked for funding for Arab students as part of Jerusalem’s Homesh strategic plan, KAN News reported Monday.
Hanegbi appealed directly to Smotrich to unfreeze the funds, alluding to a security recommendation that shows that an increase in education in east Jerusalem has led to a reduction of terrorism in the city, the report said. According to Smotrich, however, the integration of east Jerusalem residents has led to an uptick in nationalism and extremism.
The government plans to establish a committee to discuss alternative uses of the funds, including allocating the money to boost employment of east Jerusalemites, Smotrich said.
“Unfortunately, in recent years we have witnessed nationalist extremism within the universities,” he said. “Because of this, in the upcoming five-year plan, it was decided to establish a joint team between the Finance Ministry and the Jerusalem Municipality that will promote high productivity employment for the Arab population in east Jerusalem with a budget of NIS 200m., [which] will encourage the population of [east Jerusalem] to seek gainful employment and distance themselves from the circles of terrorism, thus meeting the goal set by the professionals and for which purpose the money was allocated in the first place.”
Why did Bezalel Smotrich freeze funds for Israel's Arab authorities?
Smotrich’s office said Monday in a statement: “The Arab authorities receive the grant designed to help weaker authorities just like any other authority in Israel and based on equal criteria. There is and has never been any justification in the world to favor the Arab authorities even more and give only them a special grant that the weak authorities in the Jewish sector do not receive, apart from a political demand by [Ra’am (United Arab List) chairman Mansour] Abbas, who wanted to make political capital on the state budget and bribe his voters in the Arab sector.”
In response, Abbas said: “This is a test for the government,” and “the Arab authorities are one of the weak points of Arab society. They are weak and almost do not function without additional support from the government.
“Without this money, we will feel it directly. Waste removal and the ability to provide services to the Arab communities, 130 communities. This will lead to the collapse of the local authorities. [Do] they want to return to the saga in which the central government manages the local government?”
Pointing a finger directly at Smotrich, he added: “We have a finance minister who does not care about this population, is not interested in them, and he allows himself to freeze it.”
Opposition MKs criticized Smotrich’s decision.
“Smotrich pushes the young Arabs from east Jerusalem back into Palestinian universities,” National Unity MK Ze’ev Elkin said. “Then he’ll sit in the cabinet and roll his eyes at why terrorism is raising its head again in Jerusalem, and why young people in eastern Jerusalem are participating in disturbances. Sovereignty in east Jerusalem is not built with racism. Smotrich is against a united Jerusalem.”
On Sunday, it was disclosed that Smotrich also withheld money from the Arab authorities. That decision was criticized by Interior Minister Moshe Arbel (Shas), who sent a letter to Smotrich, asking him to release the funds so that the budget would not be damaged.
Kafr Kassem Mayor Adel Badir on Monday said: “The Arab public is not [one of] the finance minister’s priorities. I don’t know how he thinks. We will still start a strike either this week or next week. We will not open the schools on September 1 because we do not have money to pay the teachers.”
The lack of funds was supposed to help construct approximately 305 classrooms to educate Arab youth.
National Unity head Benny Gantz wrote on Twitter (X): “Dealing with crime in Arab society is in the interest of the entire Israeli society and not just the Arab public. It does not amount to just police enforcement but requires extensive and serious investment in all areas: education, infrastructure, welfare, and more.
“Smotrich’s racist decision to withhold NIS 200m., which had already been promised, to the Arab authorities is harmful – not only to them but to Israeli society as a whole. Netanyahu must intervene and not allow the already bleeding Arab authorities to be strangled.”