Ben Gvir said to nix campaign against Arab crime because it’s run by ‘leftist’ JDC

National security minister reportedly makes remarks at meeting on slashing funding for project run by American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir at a Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on February 15, 2023 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir at a Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on February 15, 2023 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir has reportedly canceled an anti-crime drive in several Arab towns because the project is being run by the local office of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which he called “a leftist organization.”

Far-right nationalist Ben Gvir made the remarks at a recent meeting when it was decided that his ministry would no longer fund or cooperate with the project, dubbed “Stopping the Bleeding,” the Kan public broadcaster reported Tuesday.

The National Security Ministry said in a statement responding to the report that the project was canceled because JDC Israel, the local division of the global JDC organizations, had not provided the required semiannual reports on its activities for a year and a half.

“The minister examines all the transfers of funds in the ministry and the distribution of budgets,” the ministry said in its statement and added that “the days when funds and budgets are distributed not according to criteria and proof of activity are over.”

In a statement several days later, Ben-Gvir’s office wrote that “the Joint’s illustrious efforts for over a century for both Israel and the Jewish people has never been in question. The issue is one of proper bookkeeping. Programs with the police are required to file reports every half-year. This program simply hasn’t submitted the required paperwork for the past year-and-a-half. If they were to do so, the program would be evaluated on its merits.”

His office also claimed that nobody from his ministry spoke to Kan ahead of the channel airing its report, “and if such a person exists, he certainly was not speaking in the name of the minister, nor repeating anything the minister said.”

Illustrative: Arab Israelis protest against violence, organized crime and recent killings among their communities, in the Arab town of Umm al-Fahm, October 22, 2021. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

JDC Israel, which, like its parent organization, is also known as the Joint, did not immediately respond to a Times of Israel request for comment.

The JDC, founded in 1914 and based in New York, claims to be the largest Jewish relief organization in the world. It is active in more than 70 countries and supports Jewish communities in Israel and across the globe. In addition to disaster relief, it focuses on social welfare issues. In 1976 it set up JDC Israel, which has worked with the government on numerous social projects for vulnerable populations in Israel.

Yesh Atid MK Yoav Segalovitz, a former senior police officer and deputy public minister who helped establish the Stopping the Bleeding project, told Kan that its cancellation is “very concerning.”

He criticized the alleged labeling of the Joint as “leftist” and slammed Ben Gvir for “trying to generate more political spin.”

“This is another example of his incompetence,” Segalovitz said. “This is a program that the government decided on and it is not Ben Gvir’s private backyard.”

According to the anti-violence campaign group the Abraham Initiatives, 31 people in the Arab community have been murdered in the past two and half months. In a statement, it said “what drives the national security minister is specifically to stop the most important program for dealing with violence in Arab settlements. Minister Ben Gvir is not qualified to fill the position and it costs human lives.”

Screen capture of the American Joint Distribution Committee’s office in Jerusalem. (Google Streetview)

The program was running in seven Arab towns as part of a government decision in 2021 to clamp down on spiraling violent crime in the Arab community, and is intended to complement police enforcement activities by identifying specific crime problems in each district and providing tailored tools to deal with them. It is a joint project involving the National Security Ministry, the Israel National Authority for Community Safety, the Attorney General’s Office, the police, the Hebrew University criminology department, the Prime Minister’s Office, and JDC Israel.

It was being operated in Tur’an, Tamra, Jisr az-Zarqa, Umm al-Fahm, Tayibe, the Bedouin town of Rabat, and the mixed Jewish-Arab city of Lod. The aim was to draw on the experience gained in those locations to develop a national plan for Arab community crime, according to National Security Ministry documents.

Arab communities in Israel have seen a surge in violence in recent years, driven mainly, but not exclusively, by organized crime.

Arab Israelis say police have failed to crack down on powerful criminal organizations and for years largely ignored the violence, which includes family feuds, mafia turf wars, and attacks on women.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir speaks to onlookers at the scene of a terror attack in Jerusalem’s Neve Yaakov neighborhood, on January 27, 2023. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

Ben Gvir, leader of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, ran on campaign promises of cracking down on Palestinian attacks and Arab Israeli crime. He demanded the National Security Ministry as a condition for joining Netanyahu’s coalition, while also insisting on increasing his control over the police force.

A December law pushed by Ben Gvir explicitly granted him the authority to direct general police policy and influence policy relating to investigations, provided he consulted with the police commissioner and heard the attorney general’s opinion.

After amending existing police regulations, the law states that the government has “authority” over the Israel Police and places Ben Gvir, as national security minister, “in charge of” the force on behalf of the government.

Ben Gvir has a fraught relationship with Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai and the latter has ordered police commanders not to speak directly to the national security minister, Channel 12 reported earlier this week.

On Tuesday, Deputy Attorney General Gil Limon told a Knesset committee meeting that the increased government influence over police policy has harmed the force’s operative independence and increased its politicization

Ben Gvir has faced criticism from the hard right after several deadly terror attacks in recent weeks, with detractors saying he has so far failed to deliver on his vows to crush terror and introduce punishments of unprecedented severity against attackers and their families, including the death penalty for convicted terrorists.

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