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A dangerous position

Despite the onslaught of discriminatory legislation and racist declarations by public leaders, empirical data suggests that the government of Israel is closing the gaps between its Jewish and Arab citizens in many fields. The refusal to recognize those changes is dangerous and counter-productive.

By Ron Gerlitz and Batya Kallus

The policies of the current government and Knesset in relation to Arab citizens include statements that are divisive, discriminatory and dangerous. The provocations against the Arab leadership and members of Knesset are ongoing, and are strengthened by extremist elements of the government. However, all of the harsh declarations and actions by government ministers have not prevented Arab society from consistently fighting against these difficult trends and promoting progress for the Arab population. This periodically results in a positive response from government officials.

Nonetheless, anyone reading criticism directed toward the government’s policies regarding Arab citizens might think that all of the government activities and those of the government bureaucrats are aimed against Arab citizens, and that all of the efforts to advance equality policies have failed. This is not the case.

A combination of circumstances, among them the pressure brought by Arab society, advocacy by Arab civil society and shared society organizations, efforts by Hadash and the Arab political parties, as well as young people and others, have had an impact. Over the last ten years, the government has begun to initiate significant and innovative processes to close the gaps of inequality, advance economic development, and promote employment for the Arab population.

We are interested in giving some examples. Not because of our enthusiasm from the government’s activities, but rather because of our interest in strengthening these efforts. In 2003, the representation of Arabs in government service was 5 percent.  Since then, there has been a steady increase, and by 2011 it had reached 7.8 percent (an increase of more than 50 percent).  The number of Arabs employed in government civil service rose in the same time period from 2,800 workers in 2003 to 5,000 in 2011- an impressive increase of 78 percent, especially in comparison to a 12 percent increase in the number of Jewish workers during the same period. This represents a dramatic increase that is the result of focused policies to advance fair representation of Arabs in government service. (Contrary to the  popular claim  that the increase in Arab government employees is only the result of an increase in Druze employees.)

After years of neglect, The Ministry of Transportation initiated a process to introduce public buses to Arab communities and has succeeded so far, in Rahat, Kfar Kassem and other communities.

The Ministry of Welfare is systematically closing the gaps in the allocations of welfare budgets between Jewish and Arab communities, and is operating a variety of programs giving clear budgetary priority to funding of Arab municipalities.

The Ministry of Housing and Construction is successfully marketing the development of new housing on state-owned land in Arab communities in Nazareth, Umm Al Fahem as well as other communities.

In the field of employment, the government is running a number of programs to encourage Arab employment and has recently initiated an extensive and comprehensive process leading to the establishment of 22 employment guidance centers in Arab communities. Funds have been budgeted and implementation has begun.

In the larger picture, we should not ignore the relations between the government and Arab citizens that have in recent years also been characterized by racist legislation, attempts to harm the civil rights of Arabs, and racist declarations by public leaders. Of greatest concern to us are the phenomenon of burning and desecrating mosques and other places of worship, the increasing street violence toward Arabs, and more. We, the authors of this article, are working intensively in cooperation with Arab partners against these negative trends and toward advancing equal and shared society.

It is abundantly clear that the increases in the allocation of government resources are insufficient, and are not closing the deep existing gaps. The path is still long. However, for the past several years, we have been intensively analyzing government policies toward Arab citizens and their struggle for equality. On the basis of empirical research and our in-depth acquaintance with the bureaucracy and government policies, we write – taking full responsibility for this statement – that this is not just a matter of forward movement in individual cases or only declarative statements. Rather, it indicates intent to advance policies that aim to close the gaps in the allocation of resources between Arabs citizens and Jews, and this intention has been agreed upon and implemented by significant components of the government’s bureaucracy at the most senior levels.

In addition to the government, philanthropy- Israeli, international and especially the Jewish community in the United States are investing in improving the situation of Arab society. This is especially so in the areas of education and employment. We are talking about significant, long-term investment leading to impressive successes. For example: the expansion of high-tech in Nazareth in the last few years (there are more than 300 Arabs currently working in high tech in Nazareth as compared to 30 in 2008); and the success at the Technion which with the support of philanthropy has reduced  the dropout rate of Arab students from 28 percent to 12 percent. The philanthropic sector is also active in supporting effective pressure on the government, and causing its agencies to expand its activities in the field of economic development.

There are many reasons why the government is investing in advancing Arab society and closing the gaps. Obviously, the advocacy by Arab society (civil society ngo’s, political parties, young people, etc.) has an influence. In addition, many decision makers are driven by the economic interests of the State of Israel to advance Arab society and integrate it into Israel’s economy.  For many it is their professional and ethical commitments that move them to reduce discrimination and advance equality. The criticism of international organizations such as the OECD has an influence (although those who claim that the OECD’s pressure is the main reason for the government’s policies are wrong).

Whatever the reasons and the factors for these changes are, the bottom line is that the government of Israel through its professional staff in government ministries is closing the gaps in many fields. Yet, there are many voices in Arab society who deny this trend, claiming that there is an overall decline in every field and that the advances are marginal at best.

Arab youth, who absorb the message that the totality of the government of Israel in relation to Arab society is aimed at harming Arab citizens, will not make an effort to apply for positions in government service or in high tech companies; and a professional working in Arab local government, who accepts these claims will not find the strength to struggle for government budgets. Claiming that this negative trend also exists in the fields of economic development and the allocation of government resources is not only incorrect, it causes despair. And this is, perhaps, the greatest enemy of Arab society in Israel. This is a dangerous claim which weakens Arab society and binds the hands of those who are trying to do the work—in government ministries and in civil society activism and thus harms the struggle for equality.

Economic development and the advancement of higher education and employment are not minor issues in the national conflict between Jews and Arabs in Israel. A strong Arab society can engage with the Jewish majority on difficult questions such as the definition of the state, national rights and the right of return. The voices which negate the existence of these positive developments damage Arab citizens and their capacity to fight for national issues.

Ron Gerlitz is the co-executive director of Sikkuy, an Arab-Jewish organization working to advance equality. Batya Kallus is the senior grants officer for the Moriah Fund in Israel, and a philanthropic advisor for foundations funding activities that promote equality and shared society in Israel. This op-ed was originally published in Arabic in the Arab press in Israel.

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    1. Palestinian

      How many Palestinian villages/cities have been established since 1948 ? zero.Israel is filling specific gaps with mud not concrete.When you consider a group of people as a demographic bomb, I doubt you will truly care about them.

      Reply to Comment
      • Palestinian is right: the Citizenship Law case did great damage to hopes for integration; and the logic of “demographic bomb” is common in Israeli political rhetoric. But this piece seems to be saying that such logic is not necessarily shared at the middle range of State careerists. That is important to know, if true.

        Reply to Comment
        • “But this piece seems to be saying that such logic is not necessarily shared at the middle range of State careerists.” – this is exactly what we cliam !

          Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        There are no Palestinians in Israel, there are only Israeli Arabs. The number of towns/villages established in Israel for Israeli Arabs since 1948 is 8. Here are the names: Rahat, Hura, Kseifa, Laqia, Arara BaNegev, Segev Shalom and Tel Sheva

        The Israeli Arabs are a demographic problem as a group because their narrative persistently rejects the state of Israel and promotes a separatist agenda for themselves as displayed by Arab Knesset members who compete regularly for the title of the most hostile to Israel. Nothing that Israel can do will be accepted as positive by the representatives of this community. That really diminishes the political return on investment for any mainstream politicians trying to push forward programs to help the Arab community close the gaps. In doing so the Arabs shoot themselves in the foot. The Jews have no particular incentive to urge their representatives in the Knesset to allocate already limited state resources to the Arabs and the Arab representatives aren’t even there to demand their fair share when the actual distribution of resources is determined, which is done during the coalition building process, not at election time.

        Reply to Comment
        • K9: “the Arab representatives aren’t even there to demand their fair share when the actual distribution of resources is determined, which is done during the coalition building process, not at election time.” : which is why rights are distinct from electoral control.

          Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Whatever city you live in. the distribution of money gets decided by the people that win elections. This is how the real world works, judge accordingly.

            Reply to Comment
        • Palestinian

          The 7 (not 8,learn how to count) names you mentioned remind me of Prawer plan and before it the Siyaj zone,concentrate the largest number of non-Jews on the smallest area of land!Notice all of them are Bedouin localities in the South (which has a serious indication) .What Israel is doing to the Bedouins is like changing the vehicle registration law , taking away (stealing) your 10 unregistered (according to the new enforced law) cars ,giving you one car with a plate while giving your cars to a third party after registering them! Nasty people

          Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            You are right. 7, not 8, and not 0. I suppose we both should learn how to count?

            What Israel is doing to the Bedouin is building modern towns and cities for them.

            Reply to Comment
          • Palestinian

            In the real sense its zero.You concentrate them on, lets say for example, 500,0000 dunums and ethnically cleanse millions of dunums to make space for the new Jewish immigrants and cities.Lets take Rahat and Lehavim ,the land area of Rahat is almost 3.5 times the land area of Lehavim while the population of Rahat is 9 times the population of Lehavim.The infrastructure and income are incomparable.The resettlement of Bedouins in the so-called modern cities was the best peaceful way to get rid of them and ensure their loyalty, thats why I said it has a serious indication.Your government cant deal with the Palestinians in the triangle area the same way its dealing with Bedouins in Al Naqab for several reasons .Its more like a bribery,its a fraud .

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            No Palestinian, in the real sense it is 7. I have been to Rahat (ok, fine, I drove through it quickly out of curiosity because I have relatives that live nearby) and it is very much a real city.

            You can play as many word games as you want, but this is reality. Yes, those cities/towns are poor, but they are most certainly cities/towns built by the Israeli government for the Arab population. If you want to be honest you can argue that there are only 7 Arab towns built since 1948 compared to hundreds built for Jews. There you would be accurate. But, no, there is absolutely no intellectually honest way you can argue that the number is zero.

            Reply to Comment
          • Life forces growth. I am glad to know of these 7, and think there will be more, for ultimately I do not think Israel will turn monstrous en toto to its own. Eventually, social integration via rights will ocurr.

            Reply to Comment
          • palestinian

            You couldn’t even refute what I said . Israel is deceiving the bedouin Palestinians in Al Naqab ,destroying dozens of their communities and resettling them on a small piece of land! This time the people are aware of your dirty games. People have to reclaim back their land.The land doesn’t belong to ashkenazi infiltrators .

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Refute what you said? You said there were zero towns built for Arabs. I most certainly refuted it. You tried to spin away the fact that you were proven wrong and I didn’t take the bait. Enjoy this nice photo of the city of Rahat, built by the Israeli government for Israeli Arabs:

            Given your lack of knowledge of the subject matter I am assuming you don’t live in Israel. Maybe you can come as a tourist one day to visit Rahat and the other 6 towns built by the Israeli government for Israeli Arabs and the many other Arab towns inside Israel. Have a wonderful day.

            Reply to Comment
          • Palestinian

            You destroy several communities dispersed over a wide area of land ,concentrate them in one city,claim you built them a “modern” city and steal their land to make space for new upper-middle-class Jewish communities/kibbtuz/cities with low population density.So I was wrong ,I should have said the net result is negative not zero.One of the real problems of Israelis is their ignorance of the non-Jews surrounding them esp those who live under their control,discrimination and oppression.I hope we can build and expand our communities,villages and cities everywhere in Palestine after we get rid of infiltrators and ship them back to Europe and Russia.

            Reply to Comment
      • Aaron Gross

        Do you really care about Israeli Jews?

        Reply to Comment
        • P@lestinian

          Why should I care about the people who massacred my people and stole our land ? I always have to remind people like you that you came to us not the opposite.Israel controls 100% of Palestine.

          Reply to Comment
    2. “the bottom line is that the government of Israel through its professional staff in government ministries is closing the gaps in many fields” : this is the first time I can recall on 972 that government career professionals have been distinguished in action and attitude from political appointments; there is something of an executive branch even with the parliamentary top, perhaps fighting to change policy proposed from above. Perhaps the High Court decision urging the State to consider discrimination in all areas is having an effect at a middle policy level?

      “A strong Arab society can engage with the Jewish majority on difficult questions such as the definition of the state, national rights and the right of return.” : This seems to me the only long term way out. But Arab organizations wanting an identity apart from the State are not likely to tout advances made by proffessionals to which they do not belong. Entry into the sustained class of government professionals is needed as well. Maybe its there. I wouldn’t know.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        That is the part that you are missing. Israel is a small country with a relatively small government. These programs start at the top. The people pushing for these programs are at the cabinet level. In all the vilification of the Israeli leadership this is the part that gets lost.

        Ministry of Welfare: Likud (Kahlon)
        Ministry of Transportation: Likud (Katz)
        Ministry of Housing: Shas (Atias)

        There is no significant Arab pressure on any of these parties. Hence the need to find an explanation elsewhere (OECD,etc), because heaven forbid someone somewhere admits that the Israeli government actually does something for the Arab citizens. It might undermine the entire narrative.

        Reply to Comment
        • While there is no significant pressure from the Arab parties on these ministers, there is a standing High Court decision which urges equality in the distribution of resources. The ministers you list may be motivated partly by that. You are, however, completely right that the general rhetoric smothers these ministrial attempts, perhaps urged from mid level professionals, below them. And true equality will require minority participation at these levels, regardless of the winning Knesset coalition. Arab citizens will want their own voice, not just paternal aid.

          Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Arab citizens have their own voice. Unfortunately it is the voice of separatists who would rather yell about the occupation than deal with the economic issues of their society.

            Ugh. Stop trying to find ‘mid-level professionals’ to give ultimate credit to because you can’t seem to give any actual credit to the initiatives of the government or its ministers. All these programs are the work of the Israeli government and are coming from the very top, and by that I mean, gasp, Bibi and before that Olmert, and before that Sharon.

            There is very limited money in the Israeli budget. If any of it is going to these programs, it is because the *the most senior* levels of the government want it to.

            Reply to Comment
          • Budgets get pushed up and down hierarchies in the process of formulation. I suspect that mid level people urge more money spent toward Arab equality, pointing out that there is a standing High Court decesion which urges this in all social areas. So provide something, mid levels say, to keep petitions to the High Court at bay. This does not mean Bibi et al spend a lot of time trying to do the right thing. They look at the money and place some to deflect possible future court confrontations. This article shows me how the High Court can be indirectly somewhat effective; I have a better understanding of how constitutional logic may sometimes play out and am grateful to the authors.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            My god. You just construct a universe to your liking in your own mind, don’t you?

            First there is some invisible Gandhian mass movement among the Palestinians, then there was some stale theory about an imaginary and irreversible process of economic integration that would push Israel to grant citizenship to the Palestinians, then there are the persistent threats of violence as if it would be something new and unprecedented, and now we are on to some fiction about mid-career bureaucrats who have decided to care about unenforceable High Court advisory opinions while their actual evil bosses do not notice that money [that is in short supply] that could be spent on their own constituents is going to the Arabs, which is apparently something that they are working tirelessly to avoid only to be thwarted by some of their own underlings. And of course there is the obsession with the High Court which is best classified as pliable and better classified as marginal to the processes that take place, especially on issues of budget allocation.

            I am sorry, but you are entirely out of your element here. Let me repeat… Israel is a small country with very limited budgets. There is no bureaucrat on earth that can stand up to a minister who is looking for somewhere to cut 3% of the budget and there is nowhere to hide the money that is used to fund all the programs listed above. If it is going to those programs it is because it has been decided to direct it there at the highest levels. Your “mid-level bureaucrat” theory to the contrary is derived entirely from your imaginative perception of reality.

            Reply to Comment
          • I am pleased to see you have, with some not unexpected glosses, been keeping up with my positions; I take this as progress, as too your irritation.

            On thread topic, I must note that one of the coauthors has stated exactly what I said: that there is indeed a midlevel professional layer of the government which thinks differently than coaliton policy (which, in any case, seems at times to be who can be the toughest today). Do you actually think the proposed administration budget in the US just comes on its own out of the President’s office? There are many internal fights, at several levels of government, before something is finalized (forgetting that the House has to actually begin the legislation). All Chief Executives discover they can’t generally be as powerful as they thought they’d be. There are many many books documenting how bureaucracy limits and prevents top down decisions. What this piece says is that High Court decision may have more of an effect at mid level than the preening bird top level. That is new, and hopeful.

            But thanks for noticing my comments. Many days, it is all I have to write them.

            Reply to Comment
    3. Mesho

      “Yet, there are many voices in Arab society who deny this trend, claiming that there is an overall decline in every field and that the advances are marginal at best.”

      Not once do you use the word Palestinians, or Palestinian community. Maybe that is why so many voices in Arab society deny what you are claiming here. You can’t even do them the simple favor of acknowledging their history and identity.

      Further, you criticize “Arab” society and “Arab” youth for not recognizing the meager positive changes that have occurred for Palestinian citizens of Israel. The average Palestinian is not going to settle for 7.8% representation in government when they are discriminated against by more than 30 Israeli laws and cannot take residence on 95% of Israeli lands which through law or custom are earmarked for Jewish use.

      Reply to Comment
      • We fully recognize the Palestinian identity of the Arab citizens (or to be more precise – of 70% of them who define themselves as Palestinians). We used the trem Arab citizens in thie op-ed to emphzise the fact that we speak about the Arab/Palestinians CITIZENS of Israel and not the Paelstinians in the west bank and Gaza. No one should be happy with 7.8 represantation in the govt. beurucracy . Nor do we and we work hard to hughe this number. We do claim that denying the big step of coming to 7.8% is couter productive. the 95% land issue you mentioned is mis leading.

        Reply to Comment
      • Where Palestinians “…cannot take residence on 95% of Israeli lands which through law or custom are earmarked for Jewish use.” This is an extremely serious, nay fatal, problem. I believe the High Court has ruled against this discrimination in some ways, but I also think there has been little if any implementation. The various authorities had a long standing policy of buying or alienating land from Arab citizens, allowing purchase of use rights only to Jews–and I have a vague memory that they don’t even have to be resident in Israel to purchase such rights. Housing is fundamental to independence and family formation; such discrimination will travel through the stories of the denied, blinding gains elsewhere.

        Reply to Comment
    4. Piotr Berman

      The nature of Israeli government is a coalition of quite different parties and personalities, so trends are never uniform. In the same time police in Jerusalem seems very racist, while in the West Bank there was an incident of an undercover operation that led to an arrest of settlers who attacked policemen posing to be Palestinian shepherds. But it seems that this sting operations seems to make national news for being unusual.

      Similarly, some time ago there was a story of reserve officer who had a tour of duty in the West Bank and was instructing soldiers under his command to be polite. Definitely newsworthy.

      Yet some positive changes seem more systematic. It seems more than a year that there was any story related to spitting at Armenians. Either they ceased to have any novelty, or some positive change took place.

      I noted some news items about legislation increasing funding for Arab communities, or ending the policy that only Jews can be employed by the railroad company. Although another story was about troubles stemming from the fact that there are hardly any non-Jews working in power stations. (Some Haredi use diesel generators on Saturday, which is polluting, because “normal electricity” is the effect of Jewish work on Saturday and resulting attempts to make Saturday power “kosher”. Perhaps they started to employ enough non-Jews to make “kosher” Saturday shifts?)

      I suspect that the otherwise racist government makes an effort to develop Arab communities to decrease the dreaded phenomenon of Arabs leaving those communities and working in “mixed” cities, which may increase such social pathologies like inter-faith dating. For example, did the new bus lines serving Arab communities connect them to “Jewish” destinations, or only to each other?

      Reply to Comment
      • Piotr, I am glad to hear of these things, for I am so much an outsider that I only know the “big events.” Attempts to expand Arab participation need to be explained, why there, now, etc., and how much spillover to other areas might be possible.

        You say: ‘Some Haredi use diesel generators on Saturday, which is polluting, because “normal electricity” is the effect of Jewish work on Saturday and resulting attempts to make Saturday power “kosher”. Perhaps they started to employ enough non-Jews to make “kosher” Saturday shifts?)’ Your end guessing of a reason shows how different things are in some areas from the world I sometimes think I understand. That strict Jewish religious law could induce some Arab corporate employment is new to me, although I know you are just speculating. Without understanding the differences in logic, everybody just shouts at each other.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Richard Witty

      Thank you for your words and your work.

      Some regard relative progress as no progress, or even complicit.

      The sad aspect of that political orientation, say insisting on anti-normalization, is that it puts Palestinian Israeli citizens into the roll of political pawns of a movement, not all that different from the accusation that their success (or Fatah’s in parallel) can only be success for Israel.

      If health can be achieved, on a continuum, why insist on surgery (revolution), or worse.

      Reply to Comment
    6. William Burns

      Now I have to click on a link just to read a comment in full?

      Reply to Comment
    7. Howard I. Cohen

      This is a wonderful article because it explains many of the aspects of a serious, yes, critical issue. It’s a pure example of the “good news”, “bad news” behavior.

      the goosd news, of course, is in the many positive things that have been accomplished in bring domestic equality to the Arab population.
      The Bad news centers around the question that perhaps there is still serious opposition to equality of rights. People who feel superior, or possibly frightened and threatened by the idea that Arabs are ‘just as good, and just as deserving,’ as they are.

      So keep up the good work. I’m sure it is appreciated where it counts.


      Howard I. Cohen

      Reply to Comment
    8. Amir

      Great news. Now maybe we’ll see more Arabs volunteering for the IDF or national service and paying their local taxes.

      Reply to Comment
    9. The Trespasser

      “The Bad news centers around the question that perhaps there is still serious opposition to equality of rights. People who feel superior, or possibly frightened and threatened by the idea that Arabs are ‘just as good, and just as deserving,’ as they are. ”

      Rights must be only equal to all citizens of same state. These Arabs are not Israeli citizens.

      Here, have a look:

      Reply to Comment
      • The Knesset made resident Arabs in Israel citizens a long time ago. Perhaps you are advocating their removal (ah hum, just the citizen part, of course). Please do. The High Court will show its teeth. In the US, Congress once tried to revoke the citizenship of naturalized citizens upon conviction of a federal crime. The Supreme Court struck it down, saying once entered, all must be treated identically. The 14th Amendment grants unalterable citizenship to those born in US jurisdiction; since that means you can’t take theirs away, you can’t take it away for naturalized citizens either. I have no doubt even the present High Court would rule similarly. But keep trying! You still have a lot of unclean to push down the road, some road, somewhere.

        Reply to Comment
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