Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has agreed to chair a ministerial committee which will address the unprecedented wave of killings in Arab communities.
At least 91 people have been murdered in Israel’s Arab towns and villages since the start of the year, compared with 32 in the same period in 2022.
Following a meeting on Monday night with Arab members of the Knesset parliament and municipality leaders, Mr Netanyahu promised government action.
“Israel cannot accept terrorism. The murderous criminal organisations that are terrorising the Arab sector are not defined as terrorist organisations but, in practice, they are imposing fear on the entire population,” he said. “We need to put politics aside, remove the barriers and work together to defeat this reprehensible plague.”
Mr Netanyahu’s coalition contains no Arab parties. The Arab officials he met blamed the government, police and national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, head of the far-right, anti-Arab Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Strength) party, for soaring crime rates and called for bolstering the police’s ability to apprehend and convict perpetrators of crime in Arab communities.
Leader of the Hadash-Ta’al party, Ayman Odeh, said the real test will be results on the ground, not declarations. “We do not trust Netanyahu and have never trusted him, but after he invited us to a meeting on fighting crime in Arab society, even if only 1 per cent progress is possible, we will do everything to defeat crime.”
The United Arab List, which joined the previous government led by Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid, boycotted the meeting, arguing that Mr Netanyahu could not be trusted. Party leader Mansour Abbas said that the government’s attitude towards violence in Arab society changed after Mr Ben-Gvir was appointed national security minister.
“In 2022, we succeeded in achieving a drop of 15 per cent in crime, and now there has been a 300 per cent increase. That’s insane. This is the same police; this is the same police commissioner. Ben-Gvir yanked the police forces from Arab society. There are still stations there, the buildings still stand. But there aren’t any police. The one factor that changed is the government, the policy and the minister,” he said.
Hours before Mr Netanyahu’s meeting with Arab representatives, Mr Ben-Gvir announced plans to appoint a policy co-ordinator to help tackle the wave of deadly violence. But most Israeli Arabs have no confidence that Mr Ben-Gvir is serious about tackling the issue following statements in which he said violence and murder were inherent in Arab society. “I intend to put the fight against crime and murders in Arab society at the top of my priorities,” he said.