Agricultural Minister Yair Shamir made a series of controversial remarks about how to improve the quality of life of Bedouins living in the Negev.
“We need to take all the Bedouins and start to take them out of the desert a bit and get them closer to a normal state in terms of legislation, lifespan, social-economic standards, education [and] schooling,” Shamir said while touring several communities in southern Israel, Channel 2 television news reported Sunday.
Yair Shamir, son of former prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, also proposed enforcing restrictions on polygamy within the Bedouin community and suggested reducing birthrates “in order to raise their standard of living.”
The notion of regulating the community’s marital practices is extremely contentious, as polygamy is permitted in traditional interpretations of Islam and widely practiced among members of Israeli Bedouin society.
Israeli law currently sets limitations on the number of partners a person is allowed to marry, but most authorities in Israel’s Islamic community allow a man to marry up to four wives.
The Bedouin Israeli population is estimated at 200,000 people and is among the country’s poorest, most disenfranchised communities. Demographers have asserted that they have the highest birthrate in the world.
The agriculture minister, who is in charge of a ministerial committee exploring solutions for improving the lot of Israel’s Bedouin, claimed that without intervention the population could grow to over half a million by 2035, a figure that has troubled segments of the Israeli population apprehensive over the Jewish character of the state.
Shamir also expressed concern over 1,500 Israeli Bedouin students studying at the Islamic University of Hebron, who may be exposed to extremist anti-Israel ideology in the Palestinian university, and pledged to do his best to keep them within Israel.
Shamir added that he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are engaged in “ongoing dialogue” with the leadership of the Bedouin community on how to improve the community’s quality of life.