Governance Intentions and Policy Changes
Governance Intentions and Policy Changes
When forming in November 2023, the Israeli government signed coalition agreements and published guiding principles committing to policy priorities and goals. While the coalition agreements are extensive and cover numerous details, the guiding principles articulate overall governance intentions. Over half a year into this government, this post looks at a few of the major policy changes affecting Arab citizens, and what steps have been taken to actualize them thus far.
The government’s guiding principles open with a claim to the Jewish people’s “exclusive and inalienable right to all parts of the Land of Israel,” stating that the “government will promote and develop the settlement of all parts of the Land of Israel — in the Galilee, the Negev, the Golan and Judea and Samaria.” This touches one of the most sensitive issues in Israel’s intergroup relations—that of who has legitimate claims to the land between the Jordan river and the sea. It also raises a critical concern about relations between Jewish and Arab citizens, that of where Arab citizens can legally or comfortably seek to live. By referring to the Galilee, Negev, Golan and Judea and Samaria in one stroke, it blurs distinctions between Arab citizens and Palestinians at large, and suggests neither have rights to land or housing by virtue of their identity. This has profound implications for commitments to equal citizenship for Arab citizens.
The second principle commits “to boost national security and provide personal security to its citizens, while resolutely and determinedly fighting violence and terrorism.” A separate clause on crime in Arab society promises to “provide adequate and appropriate solutions for young people, and invest as necessary in infrastructure in Arab localities.” On one hand, this displays concern and an intention to address personal security issues for Arab citizens. On the other hand, this approach differentiates Arab citizens' security from broader efforts towards a safe and prosperous state. The emphasis on terrorism, as we will see later, has been used to further associate Arab citizens as a potential threat and focus on boosting security in Arab communities as part of a national security approach, using means often seen across the border.
Taken together, these guiding principles set Arab citizens apart from all other citizens of the country and articulate that some basic rights are exclusively for Jewish citizens.
RECENT ACTIONS AND LEGISLATION
By July 2023, over 3,900 bills have been submitted to the Knesset1, a 'legislative tsunami,' as described by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. While the proposals are in different stages and likelihoods of becoming law, along with cabinet resolutions and ministerial decisions, they paint a picture of a government that is taking concrete steps on a wide range of issues pertaining to Arab citizens, raising concerns about their potential negative impact on the Arab society in Israel.
For the purpose of highlighting key government activities over the last 7 months regarding Arab citizens of Israel, this article will focus on three main themes: crime and violence in Arab communities, land and housing, and issues of identity.
Violent Crime and Personal Security in Arab society
Violence in Arab society in Israel has surged with over 124 Arab citizens murdered as of July 2023, a 135% increase compared to the previous year. In 2021, the government approved GR-549, a NIS 2 billion plan to prevent crime in Arab society, which began to take action in 2022. Though Prime Minister Netanyahu and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir state that this issue is a priority, in March, the unit created under GR-549 for Arab Community Crime Prevention was dismantled. National Security Minister Ben Gvir also halted the “Stop the Bleeding” program, which was designed to address systemic issues contributing to violence. As murders in Arab communities captured the headlines, PM Netanyahu established a new ministerial committee, Panel for Arab Issues; however, the committee only included one Arab invitee, Hassan Towafra, head, of the Social Equality Ministry’s Minority Economic Development Authority. Chair of the National Council for Arab Mayors, Mudir Younis, was also invited following criticism.
As opposed to the policy set by GR-549, this government's approach is heavily focused on intensifying enforcement rather than addressing the root causes of crime in Arab communities. Minister of National Security Ben Gvir's proposed to involve the Shin Bet security services, despite the agency's opposition. Another proposal would enable Ben Gvir to place citizens under administrative detention without a trial. Both of these proposals would break longstanding precedents of the Shin Bet not operating—and military laws not being applied—within Israel.
Additionally, Ben Gvir’s efforts to establish a national guard under his control, focused on Arab localities, and to take authority over both the Green Police in the Environmental Protection agency and the Zoning and Real Estate police agency, have raised concerns about over-policing in Arab society, the application of a nationalist framework to crime within Arab communities, and the potential treatment of Arab citizens as the State’s enemies. Taken as a whole, if these plans proceed, Arab citizens would be subject to a separate law enforcement pipeline, with agencies and mechanisms not employed with Jewish citizens, and be subject to disproportionate use of civil enforcement agencies.
Access to Land and Housing
For many decades, lack of available land for new housing has been a chief concern and barrier for socioeconomic development in Arab society. Via coalition agreements, their guiding principles, pending legislation, and more recently an appeal to cabinet secretary Yossi Fuchs, ministers in this government are not only seeking to shift resources away from solving the housing crisis in Arab society, they seek to favor Jewish migration to the Negev and the Galilee where there are large Arab populations, and have begun to frame investment in Arab community housing needs as discriminatory against Jews.
The coalition agreements include a clause seeking to establish 14 new Jewish communities in the Negev. Dr. Lina Dalasha of the Arab Center for Alternative Planning argued argues, "Instead of taking steps to address discrimination, the government is endorsing the establishment of new Jewish-only communities and exacerbating spatial segregation." Similarly, the "admissions committee law", which was passed this week, aims to expand the number of localities where committees can screen and select applicants, increasing the limit from 400 households to 1000 households in the Negev and Galilee regions. While the Law prohibits discrimination based on nationality, religion, race, or sex, it allows for vetting candidates based on “the applicant’s unsuitability to the community’s social and cultural fabric” and is explicitly discussed by coalition MKs as part of a national mission to Judaize the Negev and Galilee. In recent years more Arab citizens in the north and south are moving to Jewish-majority cities for lack of housing, space, and infrastructure in their communities. Such committees and overall policy stand to further limit options and sanction housing discrimination against Negev Bedouin and Arab citizens in the Galilee.
In May, the government put forward a proposal to provide subsidies for land costs in communities facing "demographic or security hardships"—widely understood as referring to Jewish communities in the north and south, regions with large Arab populations. Additionally, the Negev and Galilee Development Ministry received an extra 250 million shekels in this year’s budget, along with attempts to significantly reduce the percentage allocated for Arab communities. Justice Minister Yariv Levin shared intentions of these initiatives when he argued that judicial overhaul is needed, in part, because “Arabs buy apartments in Jewish communities in the Galilee, and this causes Jews to leave these cities because they are not ready to live with Arabs.”
Issues of Identity and Representation
As outlined in the coalition agreements, coalition MKs have submitted multiple proposals to ban the Palestinian flag. A law applying the ban to universities specifically was temporarily postponed by the Knesset, but later brought back to the table despite protests from the Association of University Heads, expressing concerns about restricting freedom of speech and for “turn[ing] “higher education institutions into branches of the Israel Police and the Shin Bet.” Instances of law enforcement already prohibiting the display of the Palestinian flag display the chilling effects that even the introduction of such legislation can have.
In addition to the flag ban, other legislative trends aim to curb expression, connection with, and influence of Palestinian identity, on Arab citizens’ social, economic, and political activities. These include proposals to cease recognizing degrees from Palestinian universities, where thousands of Arab citizens matriculate due to difficulties entering Israeli institutions, and measures to ease disqualification of Arab candidates for Knesset. Both enforce limits without addressing the social and economic costs or proposing alternatives that meet the needs or interests of Arab citizens.
Simultaneously, multiple government policies and proposals emphasize the importance of Israel’s Jewish identity and aim to further assert it in public space and discourse. For example, the governments new budget established a Jewish-National Identity Authority, headed by Avi Maoz. A bill put forward in July by Foreign Minister Eli Cohen would require all diplomats to “commit to keeping faith with Israel as a Jewish and democratic state,” placing a barrier for many Arab citizens.
Religious Zionism's MK Wasserlauf, Minister of Galilee and the Negev, submitted a bill which states that "the values of Zionism will be guiding and decisive values in the design of public administration policies, internal and external policies, legislation and the actions of the government and all its units and institutions." This proposal, which would take the 2018 Nation-State Law basic law from theory into practice, has roots in the coalition agreements. Some argue that, if passed, this legislation will lead to a reality in which, if Jewish-Arab interests are presented as a zero-sum-game conflict, the Jewish interest will have automatic preference.
Civil society has been at the forefront of responding to these policy changes. A veritable tsunami of legislation submitted to the Knesset has limited the force of their response. The effects of government actions is further discussed in this post.