- The government of Israel recently approved an historic new economic package for Israel’s Arab communities. The new 15 billion NIS (£2.62 billion) package sees changes to budget distribution mechanisms in how public money is allocated, intending to fix discrimination against Arab communities.
- Gila Gamliel, a Likud MK and one of the Ministers responsible for the package, described it as “an important and historic step on the route to closing the gaps and promoting equality in Israeli society.”
- Previous Israeli Prime Ministers have recognised the existence of discrimination between Jewish and Arab communities in Israel. Former PM Ehud Olmert described the need to tackle it as “in Israel’s national interest”.
What has been announced and why is it significant?
- On 30 December 2015, the Israeli government approved an ambitious five year plan worth 15 billion NIS (approximately £2.62 billion) programme for social and employment development for Israel’s Arab community.
- The programme, rather than being a one-off grant or temporary increase in funding, represents an adjustment to budget distribution mechanisms.
- 20 different budget mechanisms – including in fields such as infrastructure, employment and industry, transportation, some components of the educational budget and housing – will allocate budgets to Arab citizens according to their proportion in the overall population (20 per cent). In addition, affirmative action will be taken in order to compensate for the historic disparity in budget allocation. Arab local authorities have historically received less state aid than Jewish ones. For instance: only seven per cent of the public transportation budget.
- Parts of the programme include: allocating 40 per cent of the national budget for road infrastructure development in Arab communities; 20 per cent of the informal education budget will now be allocated to Arab citizens; at least 25 per cent of the construction budget for new day care centres will be allocated to Arab communities; 42.5 per cent of the budget for industrial parks will be allocated to industrial parks that yield income to Arab communities; and 40 per cent of the budget of the Ministry for Development of the Negev and the Galilee Periphery will be allocated to Arab communities.
- Likud MK Gila Gamliel, Minister for Social Equality and one of the advocates for the plan within the Israeli government argued that it was “an important and historic step on the route to closing the gaps and promoting equality in Israeli society … For the first time an Israeli government is changing budgetary mechanisms so that Israel’s Arab citizens receive their proportional share of the budget.”
- Previous Israeli Prime Ministers have outlined the importance of tackling discrimination between Jewish and Arab communities in Israel. Former PM Olmert lamented while in office: “We the State of Israel have institutionally, deliberately discriminated against our Arab citizens … this has to stop because this is in Israel’s national interest.”
How have NGOs reacted to the plan?
- Ron Gerlitz, co-executive director of Israeli NGO Sikkuy: the Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality, praised the package as a whole, defining it as “historic” and “a once in a lifetime opportunity to advance equality for Arab citizens.” Gerlitz described the plan as “very moving… proof that it is possible to make change” and estimated that it “will close more than one-third of the gaps” between Jewish and Arab citizens. However, he also argues that the plan does not adequately deal with the financial distress Arab local municipalities experience, and that they were not allocated enough money under the plan.
- Similarly Amnon Beeri-Sulitzeanu, co-executive director of the Abraham Fund – an NGO working towards equality between Jews and Arabs – welcomed the plan but argued that: “It has to be supplemented by education for coexistence, anti-racism policies and representation of the Arab citizens in all realms of public life in Israel.”
How have politicians reacted to the plan?
- Joint Arab List Party leader Ayman Odeh argued that the plan “could be a first step to reduce economic and social disparities of the country’s Arab population.”
- Yisrael Beiteinu Party leader and former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that, “while Islamic State is threatening to destroy Israel, the Israeli government finds it necessary to strengthen the Joint Arab List.”
- Israeli President Rivlin, himself a strong advocate of Jewish-Arab coexistence, praised the government’s decision, saying it would “strengthen the Israeli economy and contribute to the building of trust between all citizens of the State of Israel.”