Netanyahu denies placing conditions on aid package for Arabs
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Netanyahu denies placing conditions on aid package for Arabs

But minister confirms he and colleague were asked to draw up list of demands for community to get billions of earmarked funds

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his way to the cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on January 3, 2016. (Alex Kolomoisky/Pool)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his way to the cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on January 3, 2016. (Alex Kolomoisky/Pool)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected reports Monday he is preparing to impose conditions on Israel’s Arab community for a recently passed multi-billion-shekel development plan, though one minister said he had been asked to draw up the demands.

Channel 2 News reported Monday night that Netanyahu was considering withholding funds earmarked for Israeli Arab communities unless they accept new measures for “increased law enforcement,” in the wake of a Friday terror attack in Tel Aviv.

According to the report, the prime minister instructed government ministers Ze’ev Elkin and Yariv Levin to prepare such a plan in response to the deadly shooting, which, police say, was carried out by Israeli Arab Nashat Milhem.

The Prime Minister’s Office denied the report, saying there were no plans to limit or condition the NIS 15 billion ($4 billion) aid package for the Arab community passed by the government last week.

Chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense committee MK Ze'ev Elkin (Likud) speaks during a session, on September 3, 2014. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Ze’ev Elkin (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“There is no change,” a statement said. “The prime minister is obligated to the plan.”

But Immigration Minister Ze’ev Elkin contradicted the PMO’s statement and confirmed the Channel 2 report.

Asked to respond to the claims, a spokeswoman for the minister told The Times of Israel that Elkin “affirmed the details in the report” and said he had been asked by the prime minister to prepare measures as a condition for the aid package.

Elkin defended the plan Monday, saying it was not directed against Israeli Arabs and had been decided on before Friday’s attack.

“We are not talking about giving or withholding budgets from a specific community,” he told Channel 2. “The money goes to local councils and we are saying that if a local council doesn’t take steps for the good of the State of Israel then it shouldn’t be able to receive funds from it.”

The report that Netanyahu planned to condition the funds drew harsh condemnation from opposition politicians and members of the Israeli Arab community.

Joint (Arab) List head Ayman Odeh rejected the proposal, calling it “spin” and “incitement” from Netanyahu.

“We will stand united against any effort to divide the Israeli Arab community into moderates and extremists,” he said in a statement. “We have no expectations from Netanyahu’s extreme right-wing government. It’s clear to us that we will have to fight at every stage for the implementation of this plan.”

The five-year aid proposal, approved by the cabinet last week, would funnel money into Israeli Arab and other minority communities aimed at leveling funding shortfalls and bringing them up to par with the general population.

Meretz chairwoman Zehava Galon said the threat to withhold the funds showed Netanyahu was “straying from the norm acceptable in a democratic society.

“Netanyahu’s decision to condition the transfer of billions of shekels, aimed at reducing the gaps in Arab society, is a continuation of his despicable incitement performance from the scene Saturday night,” she said in a statement.

Dov Khenin, the only Jewish lawmaker in the Joint List, asked on Twitter whether Netanyahu would withhold funds earmarked for the Jewish community the next time a Jew carries out a killing.

Netanyahu has caught flak over comments made at the scene of the attack Saturday night, in which he railed against anti-Israel “incitement” in the Arab community.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to press after lighting a candle outside a pub on Dizengoff Street in central Tel Aviv, January 02, 2016, a day after two people were killed in a shooting at the bar. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the press after lighting a candle outside a pub on Dizengoff Street in central Tel Aviv on January 2, 2016, a day after two people were killed in a shooting at the bar. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Speaking outside the Simta Bar on the coastal metropolis’s Dizengoff Street, Netanyahu vowed to compel national loyalty from Arabs, as well as increase law enforcement in Arab population centers.

The comments drew a volley of criticism from opposition lawmakers, who accused the prime minister of inciting against Israel’s Arab population.

Speaking at his Zionist Union faction’s weekly meeting in the Knesset, opposition leader Isaac Herzog slammed Netanyahu for Saturday’s comments.

“Israel does not have a prime minister,” Herzog said Monday. “If Israel had a prime minister, he would not incite against one-fifth of Israel’s citizens and turn them into outlaws.”

Netanyahu rejected the criticism, pointing specifically to the recently passed development plan.

The plan, by Netanyahu, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel, aims to “advance a systematic and structural economic development plan for the minority sector,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement last week.

“This is a significant addition designed to assist minority populations and reduce [societal] gaps,” Netanyahu said during the cabinet meeting. “The plan will lead to the end of single-family home construction and a transition to high-rise construction, as exists throughout the country. At the same time, the plan will strengthen law enforcement in the minority sector with emphasis on illegal construction.”

The proposal will focus on Israel’s communities of Muslims, Druze, Christians and Circassians — members of a displaced ethnic group originating in the Caucasus, now spread across the Middle East, of whom there are about 4,000 living in Israel.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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