Written by Aron White
It has become a political orthodoxy to refer to Israel’s current government as “the most right wing in Israel’s history.” The Guardian uses this description of the government, not only in its opinion pages, but even in its news pages.
Firstly, as even a Guardian journalist once wrote, calling a party or government “right wing” is really just a code word for describing it as “bad”.
But there is also another, subtler message in describing the government as the most right wing “ever”– it implies that Israel is becoming more and more extreme, making the situation for Israeli Arabs and Palestinians in progressively worse. In the Guardian’s recent editorial on the Balfour declaration, it described how Israeli Arabs “are poorer than their Jewish neighbours, and endure terrible discrimination.” There is a clear picture being presented, whereby the Israeli government is becoming more and more extreme, making life for Israel Arabs a misery with no prospects for improvement.
But is this really true?
An examination of the record of this government reveals a very different picture – this much maligned government has actually done a very significant amount to improve the lives of Israeli Arabs.
To begin with, it bears repeating the basic facts about Israel – Israel is a democracy, in which Arabs and members of other minorities enjoy the right to vote, freedoms of assembly, press, speech and receive equal protection under law in local and national courts. In the current Knesset, 17 out of 120 MKs are Arab. (For the sake of comparison, in the French parliament, 9 out of 577 members are members of an ethnic minority.)
But beyond Israel’s political setup, the specific policies of this government have done much to improve the lives of Israeli-Arabs. A report released in August 2017 showed that the gap in educational achievement between Jewish and Arab schools in Israel has “almost completely closed.” It is worth noting that the highest performing school in Israel is in fact Druze. Another important development in the field of education is the significant rise in the number of Arab teachers in Jewish schools, seen in Israel as an important step in breaking down cultural barriers and stereotypes. The Israeli government introduced a programme in 2013 to integrate more Arab teachers in Jewish schools – by 2016, the number had risen by 40%. The Education Minister, under whose auspices this programme runs, is Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home party, frequently branded as a fanatic and an extremist in the UK media.
Most significantly, in December 2015, the Israeli government announced the largest ever programme for improving conditions in Israeli-Arab communities. The five year, 15 billion shekel programme, aimed to “upgrade” living standards in Arab communities, and two years in, the results are beginning to become clear. A recent report from November 2017 sets out some of the major achievements of the programme to date. Twenty-one new recruitment and training centres have been built in Arab communities, helping to train 10,000 people with skills to be able to join the workforce. (In general, since 2002, there has been a 20% rise in the employment rates of Arab men.) Sixty percent of those trained in the new centres are women; and 114 million shekels was invested to build more childcare centres in Arab communities, to allow more women to go to work. More police stations have been built in Arab communities to reduce crime rates there, and more police officers (including many Muslim officers) have been hired. Over one billion shekels has been transferred to the local Arab municipalities, to strengthen local government.
And similar programmes and policies continue to be announced by the government. In February 2017, the government announced a new programme, providing 3 billion shekels for development in the Bedouin community. This programme includes the provision of an extra 1,500 classrooms in Bedouin schools, more vocational and training courses at Bedouin employment centres, the building of new trade and commerce areas, and more.
It is somewhat surprising that the media berates Israel endlessly for its treatment of Israeli Arabs, but does not consider these highly significant policies to be important. It does not matter whether one likes or dislikes Netanyahu and his government – it is simply disingenuous to ignore the fact that this government has poured in major amounts of money, to produce clear and quantifiable improvements in the lives of Israeli Arabs. To imply that this government is acting in a way that is extreme is one-sided, and is simply ignoring the record. Israel deserves a fair hearing in the press – and the media should note its achievements, just as it comments on its flaws.