Threatening strike over money woes, Arab MKs to meet Netanyahu

Lawmakers from the Joint List are demanding NIS 600 million to bolster crumbling local authorities

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Leader of the Joint (Arab) List MK Ayman Odeh (center) seen with MK Masud Gnaim (left), and MK Ahmad Tibi (right) in the Knesset, Jerusalem, June 29, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Leader of the Joint (Arab) List MK Ayman Odeh (center) seen with MK Masud Gnaim (left), and MK Ahmad Tibi (right) in the Knesset, Jerusalem, June 29, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Leading Arab lawmakers were scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday afternoon in a last-minute effort to avert a threatened general strike at the start of the school year over what they say are massive budget shortfalls.

Joint (Arab) List faction head MK Ayman Odeh together with Knesset members Masud Ganaim, Jamal Zahalka, and Ahmad Tibi were to meet with Netanyahu to seek the immediate transfer of funds to cash-strapped local Arab authorities and their education systems.

At stake is NIS 600 million ($153 million) that the lawmakers say must be injected into the Arab community’s local authorities, including money for schools used by the community.

The Knesset members also plan on insisting that the government take real steps toward closing the social and economic gaps that exist between the Jewish and Arab communities in Israel.

After a Sunday meeting with Arab mayors, the treasury said it was ready to immediately transfer NIS 240 million ($61 million) of the cash. In a statement, the Joint List said there was a good chance of avoiding the strike, which would also include the Arab school system.

“The Arab local authorities are struggling to try to give their citizens basic services,” Odeh said in a statement. “The school year that is about to start is not auspicious for the Arab citizens because our education system is on the verge of collapse due to continued neglect and discrimination. I hope that the prime minister will understand that it is a joint interest for all the citizens of the country to invest in education and in infrastructure, and to reduce the gaps in society.”

The Committee of Arab Mayors had declared that it would call a strike starting Tuesday, September 1, the scheduled first day of the school year, if their demands are not fulfilled.

Following the meeting with Netanyahu, the Knesset members were to confer with the Arab mayors to decide what further steps to take and whether or not to follow through on the threatened strike.

A system of Roman Catrholic-run schools attended by 33,000 mostly Arab Muslims may also not be able to open the school year over budget problems.

Traditionally, the schools received 65 percent of their budgets from the state, with parents paying the balance. But that figure was cut to 34 percent two years ago, doubling the amount parents had to come up with.

The office of President Reuven Rivlin said he and Education Minister Naftali Bennett met with church officials last week, and that the “president welcomed the important work of these schools.”

Bennett assured the delegates that their school’s lack of resources would be reviewed, and solutions would be sought.

AFP contributed to this report

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