State comptroller: Arab murder rate a resounding failure of Israeli governments

Speaking at economic forum, Matanyahu Englman points to lacking funds, employment rates and education as some of the causes for burgeoning violent crime

Police at the scene of a shooting in the central Arab city of Tira, where the municipality's director-general was killed, August 21, 2023. (Israel Police)
Police at the scene of a shooting in the central Arab city of Tira, where the municipality's director-general was killed, August 21, 2023. (Israel Police)

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman on Thursday decried as inadequate the government’s response to surging criminal violence in Arab Israeli towns, which has pushed homicide figures in the community to record levels this year.

“The jump in crime in the Arab community represents a resounding failure of Israeli governments,” Englman said during a conference in the northern town of Sakhnin, calling the situation “inconceivable.”

“The prime minister, national security minister and all ministers must act to eradicate crime in Arab society,” he added.

Pointing to a previous report on the issue that he published two years ago, Englman noted that crime rates have since skyrocketed, with more members of the community killed in the first half of this year than in all of 2019.

Englman said his office would start drafting a new report on the matter, focusing on the government’s overall response to criminality in Arab locales, including inter-ministerial cooperation and the implementation of plans to address the matter. The report will also look into government actions against organized crime, “the systemic response” to illegal firearms and efforts to tackle “economic crime.”

He also indicated the report would explore the causes of the violence, which he said were myriad. Englman singled out as one cause the fact that over 50,000 Arab youth are idle and outside the education or employment systems. At 29 percent of the age group, he said, this was more than double the OECD average.

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman at a Knesset committee meeting on December 28, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

He noted that the government had previously devoted some NIS 400 million ($105 million) to addressing the matter, while the economy was losing a potential NIS 5 billion ($1.3 billion) as a result of Arab youth’s relative lack of contribution.

A violent crime wave has engulfed the Arab community in recent years. Authorities have blamed burgeoning organized crime and the proliferation of weaponry, while some have pointed to a failure by communities to cooperate with law enforcement to root out criminals.

Many community leaders blame the police, who they say have failed to crack down on powerful criminal organizations and largely ignore the violence. They also point to decades of neglect and discrimination by government offices as the root cause of the problem.

The Abraham Initiatives coexistence organization, which tracks crime statistics, says 174 people in the Arab community have been killed in violent crime since the start of the year, amid a surge in deadly violence, much of it linked to organized crime. The toll is more than double the 77 killed in the community at this point last year.

Turning to traffic deaths, Englman said: “It is not a fixed fate for 33% of all those killed in accidents in 2014-2022 to have been Arab. That’s a very high percentage.” Arabs make up 21% of Israeli society.

“We are criticizing the Transportation Ministry and the National Road Safety Authority, but we’re also criticizing the local authorities, where only 10% of students are provided guidance on road safety.”

On the issue of violence, the Arab Economic Forum’s Issa Khoury said: “This is a tragedy. We are dealing with hundreds of dead, injured and disabled. This is something we cannot ignore or stay silent on.”

He said the Arab public must coalesce politically to improve its circumstances in general, as “we can be an impressive electoral force in the country. We need to reach 18 Knesset seats, to explain to the Arab public the importance of voting. That is the way to effect change, to make history.”

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