Is Netanyahu looking to derail his own plan?

PM’s attack on Israeli Arabs comes after approval of historic development plan.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the site of the shooting on Dizengoff, January 2. 2016. (photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the site of the shooting on Dizengoff, January 2. 2016.
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
Now that Nashat Milhem, the Israeli-Arab terrorist, has been shot and killed in a shoot-out (or “eliminated” as per today’s sanitized terminology on the radio or television when describing Palestinians shot dead by IDF soldiers during stabbing attacks), perhaps we can restore relations between Israel’s Jewish majority population and the one-fifth of Israel’s Arab citizens to a more rational level.
It would be nice, for example, to think we could end the trend of assuming every Israeli Arab is a potential terrorist, as highlighted by the despicable behavior of Israeli passengers on a recent Aegean Airlines flight to Israel from Greece. Unbelievably, the airline capitulated to the demands of some vocal Israelis who refused to allow the plane to take off if two Israeli Arab passengers remained on board, despite the fact the two men had valid documentation and passed all the airport security checks.
It doesn’t take too much imagination to conjure up how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would have reacted if it had been two Israeli Jews ejected from the flight. The Greek nation would have been subjected to a long lecture on Greek anti-Semitism, going back to Antiochus and the Maccabean revolt, as well as the more modern Greek cooperation with the Nazis in the destruction of the Jewish community of Salonika in 1943.
But if Israelis act in a boorish, racist manner, there is no condemnation from the prime minister, mainly because he himself has set the tone for such behavior.
Netanyahu’s election day comments in which he warned of Israeli Arabs flocking to the polls, as if the fact that 20 percent of the electorate fulfilling their democratic right was a fundamental threat to Israel’s existence, was the clearest indication that Israel’s prime minister does not view Israeli Arabs as true citizens of Israel.
Netanyahu’s comments at the scene of the Dizengoff killings further reinforced this impression. His remarks against the Israeli Arab sector – “whoever wants to be Israeli should be an Israeli all the way, both in rights and in obligations, and the first and highest obligation is to obey the laws of the state” – could easily be turned against other Israeli minorities, such as the haredim (ultra-Orthodox) or radical settlers.
Time and again, these groups have shown that the state’s laws are clearly subservient if they clash with their rigid and fundamentalist ideology but this has never led our prime minister to question their rights as Israelis, or prevented him from appointing their representatives in the Knesset as his closest coalition allies.
Furthermore, Netanyahu’s criticism of the Israeli- Arab sector’s “lawlessness” or its existence as a statewithin- the-state is jaw-dropping in terms of his refusal to accept any personal responsibility for such a state of affairs. As prime minister for the past seven years (and a previous three-year term as prime minister at the end of the last century), why haven’t he and his respective governments done more to alter this state of affairs? Given the gunfire that accompanies weddings in the Israeli-Arab sector, it’s no secret that there is a problem of illegal weapon ownership in this sector, and yet Netanyahu has never ordered the internal security ministry to clamp down on this problem.
As Nasreen Hadad Haj-Yahya, co-director of the Israeli Democracy Institute’s Project for Arab-Jewish Relations, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, “The police don’t do anything about the proliferation of weapons in the Arab community because they don’t care if Arabs kill each other. Only once the Jewish community begins to pay a price, then the state cares.”
What’s particularly disappointing is that Netanyahu’s broadside came almost immediately after his government reached a praiseworthy, historic agreement to drastically increase budget funds for a five-year development plan in the Arab sector. It’s as if Netanyahu shocked himself by approving this plan and is now looking for ways to derail it.
Although the details of the estimated NIS 10 billion to NIS 15b. plan remain sketchy, the project aims to promote a comprehensive program of economic and structural development, increasing funding for housing, education, employment of Arab women, infrastructure, welfare services and public transport.
Such a plan is decades overdue. In terms of funding, the Arab sector has been discriminated against throughout Israel’s history, with Jewish towns and villages always receiving more government money due to a deliberately established bureaucratic system that always favored the Jewish communities. Belatedly, the Finance Ministry has realized that systematically discriminating against a particular population is not only unfair and divisive, but weakens the economy as a whole.
The inequalities of the past cannot be overcome by one five-year program, and the prime minister’s further decision to entrust supervision of the plan’s activities to two hard-right members of his cabinet does not bode well for its execution. Nevertheless, one has to hope that the rational, economist side of Netanyahu’s brain for once overcomes the demagogue within him, and the Israeli-Arab sector finally begins to receive the infrastructure and government funding it deserves.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.