Hadash-Ta’al meets with Netanyahu as Arab MKs search for answer to rampant bloodshed

Ra’am shuns summit amid low expectations, as deadly violence claims 91st victim this year; PM calls to put politics aside, will head steering committee formed to deal with issue

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a former political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Hadash-Ta'al leader MK Ayman Odeh and MK Ahmad Tibi host their faction meeting at the Knesset, June 5, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Hadash-Ta'al leader MK Ayman Odeh and MK Ahmad Tibi host their faction meeting at the Knesset, June 5, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with the Knesset’s majority Arab Hadash-Ta’al party on Monday night, as unchecked crime in Arab communities claimed its 91st murder victim since the start of 2023.

Following the meeting, Hadash-Ta’al chief MK Ayman Odeh tweeted, “We do not hang our hopes on talk; the test will be results.”

Senior party lawmaker Ahmad Tibi added, “Crime is running rampant like a cancer that threatens to destroy our society,” and said that his party asked to step up efforts against stolen military weapons being smuggled to the Arab street.

Netanyahu’s office said participants agreed to the formation of a steering committee “whose tasks will encompass any area the government deals with Arab society.” The panel will be headed by Netanyahu.

“We need to put politics to the side, get rid of divisions and work together to eradicate the criminal scourge,” he said according to the Prime Minister’s Office.

Earlier on Monday, Hadash-Ta’al publicized a 12-point plan for fighting crime and improving personal security for Israel’s Arabs, an initiative signed onto by Islamist party Ra’am. Ra’am declined to join the Monday meeting, due to distrust that Netanyahu would make any meaningful policy changes as a result.

While sources close to the prime minister and Hadash-Ta’al expressed low expectations for the summit, a source close to Netanyahu reiterated the premier’s commitment “to serve all citizens of Israel.”

The meeting took place as Israel’s Arab minority marked the third slaying in under 24 hours, with the shooting of a 50-year-old man in the northern Bedouin town of Khawaled. That followed the shooting deaths of two other men in separate incidents in central and northern Israel on Sunday night.

Earlier on Monday, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir announced plans to appoint a policy coordinator to help tackle the spike in deadly violence. Many in the Arab community view the far-right minister with suspicion, because of prior convictions for incitement to racism and supporting a Jewish terror group, alongside recent intentions to deport “disloyal” Arab citizens.

At a press conference in the Knesset on Monday, Tibi said that Netanyahu should appoint a policy czar, as well as create a ministerial committee to address endemic crime and violence.

Omar Awali, 21 (left), and Ahmed Hizam Sharif, 47, who were gunned down in separate shooting incidents in Arab communities, June 4, 2023. (Courtesy)

“In order to defeat criminal organization, trust is needed, and we have no trust in Ben Gvir, the racist. A proper government would have fired him a long time ago,” the party said in a statement.

Ben Gvir said he decided to appoint a point person after consulting with the police chief, another target of Arab community mistrust. Following the Netanyahu summit, Tibi said that the prime minister said he did not agree with the police chief’s leaked statements that Arab society is inherently murderous.

Soliciting trust from the other side of the aisle, Hadash-Ta’al chair Odeh publicly implored Ra’am to join the Monday meeting. “This is a moment for responsibility,” he said.

The two parties control a shared 10 Knesset seats between them, but have not overcome joint enmity to successfully collaborate on fighting crime in Arab communities, a shared priority.

Hadash-Ta’al sources expressed disappointment that Ra’am ultimately shunned the meeting, which the party said was initiated by Netanyahu following a Knesset debate on crime in the Arab community last week.

Despite eschewing the Monday meeting, Ra’am held a rare Hebrew-language press conference on Monday to throw its weight behind Hadash-Ta’al’s 12 principle initiative.

Alongside establishing a ministerial committee chaired by the premier and appointing a policy czar, Hadash-Ta’al are asking for the additional 10 “urgent” steps: solving the housing and land crisis; establishing an authority within the Prime Minister’s Office to tackle organized crime; abolishing the fledgling national guard; changing police orientation toward Arab society from security concern to civilian interest; adding experts and academics to any working team dealing with crime; adequately budgeting all initiatives; rehabilitating victims’ families; and increasing access to mortgages and credit in Arab communities, to shut down black market financing helping fuel the underworld gangs driving the violence.

Likud leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu with head of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party MK Itamar Ben Gvir at a vote in the Knesset plenum, December 28, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Ra’am chief Mansour Abbas said that Netanyahu has given “no answer” to demands to fight crime in the Arab community, despite saying that Hadash-Ta’al gave Netanyahu a letter outlining steps to improve security in Arab towns a week earlier.

Abbas added, “We expect the prime minister to adopt the letter.”

In 2021, Abbas made history by bringing his Islamist faction into an Israeli coalition, a step he took in the name of building Arab-Jewish partnership and improving quality of life for Israel’s Arabs.

“We want to advance shared efforts,” he said, but on the other hand, “the goal isn’t sitting down itself. It’s to answer the requests of Arab society” and to get “results.”

Hours before the Knesset summit, a number of Arab mayors met with ministry director generals, also to discuss countering crime.

The 91 slayings of Arabs this year is a nearly three-fold increase since the same point last year, in which 34 violent deaths were registered, according to the Abraham Initiatives, which tracks violence in the community.

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