Israel has drawn up its most ambitious program yet to raise its Arab citizens’ standard of living. An Arab advocacy group is skeptical it will succeed.
The program is meant to redress historical under-funding and integrate the Arab community into the country’s mainstream, said Eli Groner, a senior adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. While it wasn’t specifically designed to address growing concerns about political radicalization among Israeli Arabs, “it’s no big secret that the more people have to lose, the more they will think about before they make any big, dramatic decisions,” Groner, director- general of Netanyahu’s office, said in an interview on Thursday.
The Arab advocacy group, the Mossawa Center, questioned whether the plan would be implemented. “The Mossawa Center fears that the approval of the plan is more for public relations and will not manage to bring substantial change for the living conditions of the Arab community,” it said in a release. “The plan falls short of the needs of Israel’s Arab population and is very vague.”
The multiyear program, approved by the cabinet Wednesday, is designed to improve education, transportation, employment opportunities and other public services in Arab communities, according to a government release. It also is meant to address a housing shortage that some Arabs see as a deliberate attempt by the government to limit the Arab footprint in the Jewish state. The government estimates 13 billion shekels ($3.3 billion) will be spent over five years, Groner said.
“This is an effort to correct historical under-investment in the Arab community and narrow the gaps over the coming years,” Groner said in an interview.
Arabs have long complained of discrimination in state funding. More than half of Israel’s nearly 1.8 million Arabs lived in poverty in 2014, compared with 22 percent of citizens overall, according to government statistics released earlier this month.
Groner said the government worked very closely with Israeli Arab communities in formulating the plan but not with the United Arab List, which represents Israeli Arabs in parliament and sits in the opposition.
The Mossawa Center said Arab leaders had sought 32 billion shekels over five years. It estimated funding would total 10 billion shekels at best and noted that other five-year plans had foundered. The 2016 budget has already been drawn up, “meaning the money still needs to be found for it,” the center said.
Netanyahu, whose Likud party has had a traditionally antagonistic relationship with the Israeli Arab political leadership over Palestinian statehood aspirations, tried to rally his supporters to the polls in last March’s election by declaring that Arab voters were “coming out in droves” to vote. After widespread domestic and international criticism, he issued an apology, saying he understood it had “hurt” some Israeli Arab citizens.