Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan on Monday attributed a recent wave of violence in Arab Israeli communities to residents’ culture, drawing accusations of racism from Arab lawmakers.
“It’s a very, very — and another thousand times — very violent society,” Erdan told Jerusalem Radio. “It’s connected to the culture there. A lot of disputes that end here with a lawsuit, there they pull out a knife and gun.”
Erdan also said that in Arab society, “a mother can give a son permission to murder the sister because she’s going out with a man who’s not pleasing to the family.”
His comments came as protests against an uptick of violence and murders within Arab communities have expanded in recent days throughout the country, with thousands demonstrating over the weekend.
Police say there have been more than 70 killings in Arab communities so far this year, nearly as many as in each of the past two years. Arabs, who are 20 percent of the general population, made up more than half of all murder victims nationwide.
“Instead of taking responsibility for the security of all citizens in the country, Erdan prefers to hide behind racist claims and to throw the responsibility on the murdered,” Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint List of four predominantly Arab parties, said in a statement.
He also accused Erdan, whose ministry oversees police, of viewing Arab Israelis as “enemies” and refusing to protect them from criminal groups.
MK Ahmad Tibi, No. 2 in the Joint List, said the faction was discussing how to respond to Erdan’s remarks. The public security minister is scheduled to meet with Joint List lawmakers on Thursday. The meeting was scheduled before the comments were made.
Yousef Jabareen, another Joint List MK, said Erdan was victim blaming.
“The flawed culture is the racist ruling culture that sees Arab citizens as second-class citizens and as members of an inferior culture,” he wrote on Twitter.
Following the criticism, Erdan said his words had been distorted and taken out of context.
“The main responsibility for the fight against crime and violence in Arab society is of the government and police,” he tweeted. “The Arab public is… law abiding.”
Erdan said, however, that reducing violence requires recognizing “there are culture norms in segments of the Arab public” that need to be addressed, listing “blood feuds, murder in the family of family members, illegal weapons.”
Tens of thousands of people have held protests in Arab towns since last week demanding police step up enforcement to make their streets safe. On Thursday, the demonstrations kicked off with a general strike among the community.
Arab leaders say the Israel Police largely ignores the violence in their communities, everything from family feuds and mafia turf wars to domestic violence and so-called honor killings.
The police adamantly reject the allegations of indifference and say they are doing everything they can to stem the violence. They say local leaders need to do more to cooperate with police and to prevent violence.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the recent spate of violent crime in Arab communities, pledging national resources and urging the minority to cooperate with law enforcement authorities to combat the phenomenon, in his first public comments since mass protests against the bloodshed and alleged police inaction began last week.
Leaders of the Joint List largely dismissed Netanyahu’s remarks, with Odeh saying the test for the premier would not be in public statements on the matter, but in the immediate implementation of a government plan to combat violence.
The Arab Higher Monitoring Committee, the umbrella body of Arab Israeli organizations, announced last week that it would push ahead with protests against the lack of law enforcement, including a convoy of vehicles from communities in the north and south that would head toward the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem.
Mass protests are planned for October 21 and 27, outside police headquarters in Nazareth and Ramle, respectively. On the 27th, organizers plan to set up protest tents outside government offices in the capital.
Odeh has called on the Jewish community to join the protests, saying that a society without weapons should be the ideal for everyone.