ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 150

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Ben Gvir touts czar to halt wave of killings, as Arab MKs turn to Netanyahu instead

Parties call on PM to tackle huge jump in killings in Arab community, lay blame on current government after 90th killing this year, nearly triple 2022 rate

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, right, and Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai at the Israel Police Independence Day ceremony at the National Headquarters of the Israel Police in Jerusalem April 20, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, right, and Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai at the Israel Police Independence Day ceremony at the National Headquarters of the Israel Police in Jerusalem April 20, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir announced plans Monday to appoint a policy coordinator to help tackle rampant bloodshed in the Arab community, hours after the epidemic of violence claimed its 89th and 90th victims this year.

The far-right minister made the announcement after conducting a situational assessment with police chiefs following the pair of deadly shootings in Arab communities overnight.

At the same time, MKs from Arab political parties were scheduled to meet later Monday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss the problem and demand urgent action to combat the crime wave.

According to the Abraham Initiatives, which tracks violence in the community, 90 Arabs have been killed in violent circumstances so far in 2023. The figure is nearly triple the 34 slayings in the community recorded by this point last year.

Ben Gvir said he made the decision on appointing a policy czar based on meetings with Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai and district police commanders over the last few days.

A candidate would be appointed to the post within two weeks, the minister said, indicating that a search had yet to begin.

“I intend to put the fight against crime and murders in Arab society at the top of the priorities of the Ministry of National Security,” Ben Gvir said in a statement to the press.

“Furthermore, I intend to allocate enormous resources for this purpose by bringing police officers to the area, raising police salaries and establishing the National Guard,” he said.

The minister has pushed controversial plans for the creation of an armed volunteer civilian force that can be used for riot control during times of increased tensions between Jews and Arabs, though critics have accused him of trying to raise a private militia.

Police at the scene of the murder of Arab-Israeli journalist Nadal Ijbaria who was shot dead in his car in the northern Israeli city of Umm al-Fahm, September 4, 2022. (Flash90)

Many in the Arab community and beyond view the ultranationalist leader, as well as his plans to establish a National Guard gendarmerie force, with suspicion and are skeptical of his commitment to the issue.

He has in the past called for deporting “disloyal” Arabs and has been convicted on charges of incitement to racism and supporting a terror organization.

There is also distrust around Shabtai, who was recently caught on tape stating that Arab’s are inherently murderous.

“Mr. Minister, there is nothing that can be done,” he said in conversation with Ben Gvir about the high number of murders in the community, a recording of which was leaked to Channel 12 news in April.

“They kill each other. That is their nature. That is the mentality of the Arabs,” he continued.

Hadash-Ta’al leader MK Ayman Odeh, left, and MK Ahmad Tibi attend a faction meeting at the Knesset, June 5, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The planned meeting with Netanyahu underlined Arab leaders’ unease with cooperating with Ben Gvir, even as they seek to stanch the bloodletting.

At a press conference in the Knesset on Monday, MK Ahmad Tibi of Hadash-Ta’al said that it was Netanyahu who should appoint a policy czar, and create
a ministerial committee, in order to effectively tackle the problem and coordinate with other branches of government.

Tibi did not say explicitly if he would reject Ben Gvir’s proposed policy czar and a spokesperson for the MK did immediately comment on the issue.

Hadash-Ta’al will present a 12-point policy proposal to Netanyahu during the Monday meeting.

Speaking at the same press conference, party head MK Ayman Odeh seemingly laid responsibility for the dire situation with Netanyahu, who is also widely distrusted in the community. According to Odeh, more Arabs have been killed since 2009, when Netanyahu took power for a second time, than there were in all the years preceding, going back to 1948.

But he admitted that securing action on the issue would likely involve dealing with the premier.

“Netanyahu has invited us to a meeting [on the issue] at our suggestion and we do not have the privilege not to meet with the prime minister on this matter,” he said.

As the murder rate has spiked in recent years, the government has pushed a series of plans aimed at dealing with the problem, both from inside the community and by bolstering police. Schemes pushed by the previous government, which the Islamist Ra’am party was a part of, were credited with helping the number of Arabs killed violently dip last year to 112, down from 126 in 2021.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on May 28, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ra’am head Mansour Abbas also ascribed blame to the prime minister, saying Netanyahu had given “no answer” to demands to fight crime in the Arab community.

“What has changed between 2022 and 2023 is the composition of the government, the policies of the government which froze the decisions taken last year by the previous government, disrupted the work of the police and so we have got to the current catastrophe in which we are losing our loved ones,” said Abbas.

“We want to cooperate, we are ready for all cooperation to save lives and sanctify life, including in the Arab sector. The goal is to answer the demands of the Arab sector and adopt the policies [of the previous government] which were successful,” said Abbas.

Nonetheless, the party said it would boycott the meeting with Netanyahu.

“Netanyahu as prime minister froze plans approved by the previous government, plans which led to a decrease in the number of murders in Arab society. He is invited to announce the renewal and revitalization of the programs immediately,” party MK Waleed Taha told The Times of Israel.

Analysts say the killings have been driven by underworld violence fueled by powerful gangs engaged in extortion, loan sharking, protection rackets and other criminal activities. Many of the shootings are also suspected of being part of turf wars between the rival syndicates.

Heritage Minister Amihai Eliyahu, a member of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, said Arab society was to blame for the high rate of murders.

“Their education system is responsible [for the situation], for saying ‘don’t listen to authority’,” Eliyahu declared in an interview with the Knesset Channel.

“Their society doesn’t know how to manage itself. The Jewish people were in exile for 2,000 years and learned how to do so,” continued the ultranationalist minister. “The Arab community needs to educate towards obeying laws which will bring about fewer murders, less crime and fewer traffic accidents.”

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