The new Israeli government, whatever character it may adopt, must implement a set of measures in order to promote social equality vis-à-vis the Arab population in the country. As COVID-19 has well established, humanity shares one destiny.
In case it has gone unnoticed, COVID-19 has made it abundantly clear that we are all in this together and that our destiny is intertwined. The virus does not care for our political beliefs, whether we are Muslim, Christian or Jewish, secular or ultra-orthodox, live in the great American democracy or under the Ayatollahs in Iran.
The coronavirus simply does not care. It does not discriminate between religions, sexes or different ethnicities. Nor does it care for physical borders. For the virus, the world is just one big village.
Thus, it makes perfect sense that we must invest- in an equal and substantive manner- in all towns and cities throughout the country, and more critically in those which are in the geographic and social periphery.
The creation of jobs, decent living standards, adequate infrastructure befitting the 21st century, decreasing of inner-city population density, equal standards of education and education-related facilities as well as inclusiveness, awareness of health and hygiene, and most importantly- social solidarity- are the very building blocks of the road map which the new government must implement.
It is no longer an issue of rightist or leftist ideology. This is simply a necessity. The destiny of Israel’s Jewish citizens is inseparable from that of its more than two million Arab citizens. Hence, Israel’s next government should seriously consider taking the following steps as soon as possible and as part of the current state of emergency, given the current health pandemic we are all facing:
1. A Ministry for Minority Affairs must be established. It must be led by a professional technocratic team that will emphasize meaningful work and not by political appointees. The ministry should incorporate the existing department in charge of minorities in the Ministry of Social Equality which has accumulated expertise in the past decade. Regarding the associated cost of having too many ministries, there must be an immediate and across-the-board wage reduction of at least 30% for all Ministers and Members of Knesset, at least as an act of solidarity, given the current economic hardships of a vast number of Israeli citizens.
2. The ministry must immediately create a steering committee with representatives of all shades of Arab society. That is- not politicians, but rather leading and outstanding professionals in the fields of health, planning, etc. who will be able to point out trends, needs, and required courses of action.
3. Substantial funds must be allocated for the purpose of planning in Arab cities and towns. Within the existing allocated funds of governmental budgets for Arab communities in Israel, such as Government Directive for the Northern Bedouin communities 1480, Government Directive for the general Arab population 922, etc, there is a clear and quite conspicuous lack of funding for planning, which is the most critical part of any entrepreneurial plan.
4. Simultaneously, there should be a serious and structural follow-up mechanism that will track the implementation of the various projects in Arab society. This mechanism may be based upon the network of professionals who were already trained for this purpose by the current Ministry of Social Equality. They have been trained to maximize pulling of allocated funds by responding to governmental Calls for Proposals and are currently working in a relatively large number of Arab municipalities in that capacity . This network may well serve as a solid base upon which to build, yet must be enhanced.
5. The government must emphasize the improvement of Hebrew-language studies in schools in the Arab cities and towns. The goal should be to enable Arab-Israeli youth to achieve a level of Hebrew which will allow them to participate in the workforce and maximize their employment opportunities. Whether politically correct or not, any self respecting academic institution in the country will testify that the current average level of Hebrew education in schools throughout Arab cities and towns is very low.
6. The government must lay the groundwork for the integration of the Arab high-school graduates in meaningful civil service, which will be parallel to the military service, obligatory for Jewish Israeli high-school graduates. This could be carried out and supervised by the newly-founded Ministry and does not have to be within the framework of the National Civil Service Plan, currently managed by the Israeli Ministry of Defense. This systematic integration of Arab-Israeli citizens in national institutions, such as hospitals, old age homes and so on, will undoubtedly enhance further integration of young Israeli-Arabs in mainstream society, improve their knowledge thereof and perhaps even open up employment opportunities for some of them.
7. The government should significantly promote a public discourse amidst Arab-Israelis concerning the need for strategic change in housing solutions. The classic building of traditional two-story houses for each family is no longer viable, given the growing scarcity of land in Israel. The framework of living in multi-story apartment buildings is not acceptable in Arab society today. However, places like Kfar Manda have begun transforming their urban landscape into buildings, and so must other municipalities.
8. There is a need for a nationwide emergency educational plan which will deal with the horrific rise of violence in Arab society over the past decade. This plan must work in congruence with a matching plan which will be implemented by the Ministry of Internal Security, alongside law enforcement agencies and in full coordination with the local elected leadership in every Arab town and city throughout the country.
9. The new ministry must set up a special task force, comprising religious leaders, Christian, Muslim, Druze, and others, with leading figures from the press and media, alongside the elected chairpersons of the various municipal forums in the Arab sector. The members of this task force will assist in creating a respectful discourse that will help communicate the different governmental policies to Arab society.
10. Given the fact that there has not been a functional elected government for over a year, and given the COVID-19 crisis, the enforcement of the Kaminitz Law, dealing with construction offenses should be frozen for several years. During this period, offenders will be able to go through the necessary steps in order to legalize their homes. The labeling of more than two million Arab-Israeli citizens as construction offenders would be a disservice for the country and will not serve to transform the current impossible construction chaos in the Arab sector throughout Israel . In congruence with the several-year-long freeze of the Kaminitz Law, a solution to the construction issue must be found, particularly with regard to the long-overdue approval of city plans in the Arab municipalities.
11. It is essential that the wording of Israel’s Declaration of Independence with regards to equality for all citizens without discrimination based on gender, race or religion be added to the wording of the recently legislated and much-disputed Nation-State Law. This is, undoubtedly, the path to maintain a Jewish and democratic country.
12. The government must encourage the legislative branch, namely the Knesset, to promote legislation obliging the integration of Arab experts and professionals in all sections of public service. Just as the Arab doctors, nurses and other health professionals are part and parcel of the fight against COVID-19, Arab professionals should play an inherent role in all other fields of everyday life.
The writer is CEO of a strategic consultancy,working with local governments and international organizations, and a former adviser to President Shimon Peres