New minorities minister 'capable,' but need for post questioned

Israeli Arabs and minority rights activists have few bad things to say about the choice of former Ben-Gurion University head Avishai Braverman as minister without portfolio for minorities. But many Arabs and their supporters question whether the Labor politician will be able to make a difference within the new government led by Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu, and whether the existence of such a position is an ideal way to address inequities in the system. "Braverman invested in building a relationship with the Beduin community and worked to promote Arab professors at [Ben-Gurion] university. He has a good reputation," said Jafar Farah, director of the Haifa-based Arab rights organization Mossawa. "The question is whether he will be limited by extreme right-wing people [in the government] who are inciting against the Arab community." But Farah and others said they also consider the mere existence of the position "a step backwards." "We thought, as a community, that the time of a minister of minority affairs was behind us. All government offices should give us equal services without the need for a minister of minority affairs," Farah said. Similarly, Yousef Jabareen, the director of the Nazareth-based Dirasat, The Arab Center for Law and Policy, said that he was not sure that creating a special portfolio was the solution that would address the concerns of the Arab community. "We know the problems. We know what needs to be done. What is needed is not a new office. What is needed is real allocation of resources" to other ministries, such as education, housing and welfare, he said. Arabs face a shortage of housing, land and space for public institutions, and lack more than 1,000 classrooms, according to a report issued by the state comptroller last month. Ali Haider, coexecutive director of Sikkui, an NGO that tracks issues of Arab-Jewish equality, said that while past governments had taken many decisions involving the Arab minority in Israel, they had yet to implement them. "Braverman should listen and be aware of the needs of Palestinian minorities [Israeli Arabs] and those decisions taken in the past, and he should immediately implement these decisions or laws," such as those that require fair representation in civil service, Haider said. Many Arab academics, for instance, are able and willing to work in civil service but have not yet been integrated, he said. An official from the Abraham Fund Initiative, a nongovernmental organization that promotes equality and coexistence, said the appointment of Braverman offers hope that relations would improve between the Israel and its Arab citizens. "He's very knowledgeable about the Negev, what needs to be done to develop it. [He has] economic experience and knowledge. He's relatively dovish and has pragmatic views," said Amnon Beeri-Sulitzeanu, coexecutive director of the organization. "This specific person is someone who understands the importance of good relations between the Arab minority and the State of Israel." Whether he will have the ability and the means, however, "is another question." Much will depend on how he will manage and succeed in bringing the issue to the forefront of Israel's agenda, Beeri-Sulitzeanu said. "If it is positioned or viewed as a very significant issue, and described as such, and seen as such, then allocations will follow," he said.