Interior Ministry announces new funding for poor municipalities

78% will go to Arab communities, ministry says; Druze municipality leader says it’s ‘too little, too late’

Shas party leader Aryeh Deri arrives at the Knesset for a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, March 3, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Shas party leader Aryeh Deri arrives at the Knesset for a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, March 3, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Interior Ministry announced a stimulus package on Thursday for low-income municipalities struggling with rising deficits due to the coronavirus crisis, but some councils have criticized the move as “too little, too late.”

Seventy-eight percent of the NIS 160 million ($46.5 million) relief would be transferred to Arab, Druze and Circassian municipalities, the Interior Ministry said in a statement. It wasn’t immediately clear when the funds would be transferred or if they would first need to be approved by the cabinet.

Arab municipalities announced a general strike in May to protest what they called the government’s failure to properly compensate them for losses during the coronavirus pandemic. Municipality leaders said at the time that out of NIS 2.8 billion ($804 million) allocated to deal with the fallout from the pandemic, only 1.7% had been allocated to Arab communities.

Local council heads estimated that they had lost about NIS 70 million per month in revenue since the beginning of the crisis in March. They blamed the steep decline in property tax revenue from businesses shut down due to the lockdown measures.

The Interior Ministry said that the new funds were intended to rectify those discrepancies, including the rise of unemployment and loss of property taxes.

“We are paying attention to the liquidity crisis in municipalities and we’re expending every effort to help them,” Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said on Thursday.

Members of the Druze community protest in Jerusalem for the financial support they were promised by the government, May 31, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Jaber Hamoud, head of the Association of Druze and Circassian Municipalities, did not rush to welcome the news, however. He said the allocation was “too little, too late” to repair the economic damage caused by the coronavirus, Globes reported.

“This budget will not save our communities from collapse, and thus we shall continue the struggle,” Hamoud said.

Demonstrations to ensure the passage of a “five-year plan” and a 2020 budget for Druze communities would continue, he said.

Druze community leaders have organized several demonstrations in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv since early May, demanding increased funding for their municipalities and saying the funding was promised to them by the government.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered Finance Minister Israel Katz to create a new five-year budget for Arab and Druze communities.

Among the other municipalities that would benefit from the transfer were Bnei Brak, which would receive NIS 2.4 million ($696,000), and Kiryat Malachi, which would receive NIS 1.3 million ($377,000). Haredi mayors welcomed the funding.

“Minister Deri entered the line of fire and did everything to aid the Haredi community during the terrible crisis that has taken place,” Beitar Ilit Mayor Meir Rubenstein said on Thursday, according to Haredi news source Kol Chai.

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