Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday posted an English-language video to his official Facebook page, in which he touted his government’s “tireless” efforts to boost Israel’s Arab minority and integrate the community into mainstream society and the economy.
The prime minister’s assertions contradict regular claims by Arab leaders that their population is consistently and systematically discriminated against by the state.
In the video, Netanyahu said that while the larger Middle East was “torn apart by hatred of minorities — Yazidis, Christians, Bahais, Kurds and others” — in Israel “minorities thrive.” Israeli Arabs, he said, “enjoy equality under the law, and we’re working very hard to make sure that they enjoy equality of opportunity.”
Among the achievements cited by the premier: “Over the past decade, the number of Arabs working in high-tech in Israel increased tenfold; Arab students studying at the Technion, Israel’s MIT, tripled; Arab judges nearly doubled; an Arab Supreme Court Justice served as chairman of the Central Election Committee overseeing our national elections; Arab participation in the workforce has grown significantly; Arab unemployment is down; and for the first time ever, an Arab has been appointed a deputy commissioner of the police, the second highest rank attainable.”
Netanyahu claimed that “none of this is accidental. My government has worked tirelessly to advance equality and opportunity for all. We’re investing 14 billion shekels — more money than has ever been given to the Arab sector in order to decrease unemployment and improve health, education and safety.”
The prime minister claimed the facts of his government’s actions were often distorted or under-reported by the media.
“Imagine if the Middle East looked a bit more like Tel Aviv and a bit less like Aleppo,” he said.
Netanyahu’s English video was apparently aimed at reassuring international audiences of Israel’s commitment to its Arab minority, some weeks after he sent a similar message to the community itself on Facebook.
Israeli Arab leadership has long claimed the minority group — which makes up 20 percent of the population — faces serious discrimination by the state.
A recent government crackdown on illegal construction by Israeli Arabs has raised tensions between the Arab population and government authorities. In January the government demolished 11 buildings on the outskirts of the central town of Qalansawe, and 12 structures in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in the southern Negev Desert.
The latter incident resulted in the deaths of police officer Erez Levi and Umm al-Hiran resident Yaqoub Mousa Abu al-Qia’an in what police say was a terror attack, a claim that has been widely disputed.
Both demolition pushes resulted in large protests and widespread strikes among Israel’s Arab citizens, with the Joint (Arab) List Knesset faction branding the demolitions “an unprecedented crime and a declaration of war against” the “Arab public.”
Last Saturday thousands of Arabs and Jews demonstrated in Tel Aviv over government policy towards the Arab community, accusing the government of racism and incitement against minorities.
A recent government report stated that more than 53% of Israeli Arabs fall below the poverty line compared to 14% of Jews — and that the rate is going up.