Australia/Israel Review

Scribblings: Netanyahu’s boast

Mar 28, 2019 | Tzvi Fleischer

Israeli initiatives to assist its Arab citizens receive little recognition
Israeli initiatives to assist its Arab citizens receive little recognition


Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was recently involved in a controversial Twitter exchange with Israeli model and TV presenter Rotem Sela. 

That exchange focussed on Israel’s controversial new nation-state law, with Sela calling Israel a “state of all its citizens” and Netanyahu replying that the nation-state law means that “ Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people – and not anyone else.”

Whatever one thinks of that exchange or the nation-state law, Netanyahu went on to say something else that is indisputably true. He added “there is no problem with Israel’s Arab citizens. They have equal rights and the Likud government has invested more than any other government in the Arab population.”

As this column has repeatedly documented, despite sometimes divisive rhetoric, it is simply a fact that the Netanyahu-led governments of the past decade have done more than any others in Israeli history to invest in Arab communities, tackle Arab-Jewish inequality and encourage integration. Moreover, these efforts have contributed to measurable improvements. 

I won’t repeat here the details of programs I discussed in past columns – for instance in Nov. 2014 and Jan. 2018 – but they include affirmative action and other funded programs to support integration of Arab Israelis into higher education, hi-tech jobs, the civil service, Israel’s largest private sector companies, and national service. Moreover, perhaps the best-known and largest of these programs was Government Resolution 922, passed in Jan. 2017, which established a five-year plan, funded to the tune of 10 billion shekels (A$2.9 billion), to rectify chronic inequality in government spending in Arab communities compared to Jewish ones.

A Haaretz report from Feb. 19 highlights that the Israeli Government has been supporting Resolution 922 with something possibly even more important – the allocation of large tracts of land for the development of Arab communities, along with unprecedented efforts to encourage home-building in these municipalities. 

According to the Haaretz story by Meirav Arlosoroff:

“58 of the master plans for Arab municipalities call for adding a total of some 75,000 dunams (19,000 acres) within their boundaries – 18,000 of that state lands, including areas like forests and nature reserves whose zoning has been redesignated for residential construction.It has even gone as far as to return land once taken for Jewish settlement back to Arab communities…”

In addition, Arlosoroff reported that government figures demonstrate:

“Plans for 120,000 housing units have been approved [in Arab Municipalities over the past five years]… in 2019 alone the figure [will] grow by another 63,000… Over the last five years, planning approvals in Arab communities have accounted for between 15% and 25% of all approvals in Israel.”

The story also notes that:

“The government is giving Arab local authorities help that Jewish authorities don’t get. These include covering planning costs for privately held land, special budgets for municipal engineering departments that don’t have adequate resources… and grants to pay for consultants who help Arab authorities conduct long-term planning.”

These numbers and policy changes do indeed suggest that Netanyahu has every right to boast of his governments’ unprecedented efforts to address the day-to-day problems of Israeli Arab citizens and communities. 

Yet the efforts with respect to land and planning described in Haaretz are almost unknown even in Israel. Indeed, it seems likely that some of the more right-wing supporters of the Likud-led current government would not be pleased to hear about large amounts of state land being allocated to Arab municipalities, nor the special budget help that Arab municipalities are getting that Jewish ones do not. 

Criticising Israel or Demonising Supporters

Virtually no one, either inside or outside the Jewish world, argues that criticising Israel, as you would any other country, is antisemitic. Certainly, no one serious or thoughtful thinks this. 

Yet there is a widespread assertion, made especially on the anti-Israel left, that criticism of Israel is being silenced by Zionists accusing critics of being antisemites. What is it that these people want to say about Israel that they feel they cannot get away with?

Ilhan Omar: Accusing supporters of Israel of dual loyalties

The saga in the US of Congresswoman Ilhan Omar strongly suggests an answer. 

As readers may be aware, Omar has repeatedly gotten into trouble for comments that many, including much of the Congressional leadership of her own Democratic party, regard as at least flirting with antisemitism. Meanwhile, her defenders, especially on the left of the party, insist she is being attacked and silenced as a Muslim woman critical of Israel. 

But what was the criticism of Israel in the key comments that have gotten her into trouble? The answer is there was none. Omar’s two recent controversial comments say conspiratorial things about American supporters of Israel, nothing about Israel itself. 

First, she tweeted the reason other members of Congress support Israel is “all about the Benjamins” – meaning money – and she specifically mentioned the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC as the source of the money. In other words, she implied elected officials are bribed to support Israel. 

Then she said she wanted to talk about “the political influence in this country that says that it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.” In other words, she claimed that US supporters of Israel are pushing for loyalty and allegiance to Israel, for “dual loyalties” – a traditional antisemitic canard. 

I suspect these claims sum up pretty well what the anti-Israel far left means when they say claims of antisemitism are stifling criticism of Israel. They are already free to criticise Israel. What they want to be able to do is make conspiratorial claims, with traditionally antisemitic overtones, about international support for Israel in the media, governments, business etc, and demonise all those who support Israel as part of this evil conspiracy. 

Anyone who cares about racism shouldn’t allow them to get away with the ridiculous argument that reacting to such antisemitic conspiracy theories is really about “silencing criticism of Israel.”


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