Cabinet discusses 'traffic
A new plan has been presented to the cabinet to allow Arab municipalities to keep receiving government funds while ensuring that the money will not end up in the pockets of criminal organizations.
The new “traffic light” system would rank Arab municipalities according to their risk level of infiltration by organized crime. Put forth by Social Equality Minister Amichai Chikli and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, the plan, which was discussed at a cabinet meeting last week, is reportedly backed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The proposal came after the finance minister decided to hold up NIS 200 million ($53 million) in development funds for Arab municipalities earlier this month, alleging that the money was likely to be funneled into the hands of criminal gangs. Smotrich also claimed that he was not expected to “rubber-stamp” the decisions of previous governments, given that the allocation was a budget item approved by the previous anti-Netanyahu government coalition that included the Islamist Ra’am party.
The decision to withhold the money was met with strong criticism by the opposition and even by members of the ruling coalition, including Interior and Health Minister Moshe Arbel.
Following the backlash, Netanyahu’s office announced on August 9 that unspecified monitoring mechanisms would be put in place before the funding would be released. More recently, Smotrich held a series of meetings with leaders of Arab local authorities and the Shin Bet to discuss options to ensure the funds are not misappropriated.
According to the latest proposal put forward by Smotrich and Chikli, Arab municipalities will be ranked in a three-tier system: “Green” ones would receive funding with no conditions, “yellow” ones would receive funding with supervision, and “red ones” would see their funds frozen pending a solution that will ensure that the funds will not end up in the hands of criminal organizations. The ranking will be decided by the Interior Ministry, the police and the Shin Bet, according to public broadcaster Kan.
The details of the oversight system are still under discussion, a spokesperson for Smotrich told the Times of Israel.
“The decision to oversee the transfer of the funds so they reach Arab Israeli citizens and not criminal groups is a just, moral and right demand that today cannot be disputed,” Smotrich said in a recent comment.
Responding to that statement, Mudar Younes, the mayor of the Arab town of Wadi Ar’ara, commented: “The response to the efforts of criminal elements to take over the local authorities needs to come from the police — enforcement and punishment. It cannot be that the victims of the takeover attempts by criminal elements are punished and not the true criminals.”
He also said that there was a double standard, since funds are not cut when earmarked to Jewish municipalities in which cases of corruption emerge.
With local elections coming up in two months, some experts have warned of the risk of criminal elements threatening and blackmailing local officials to obtain favors, and occasionally resorting to violence.
Since the beginning of the year, 157 members of the Arab community have been killed by violence, according to the anti-violence Abraham Initiatives watchdog group, much of it attributed to warring crime organizations. The figure is over twice as high as for the same period in 2022.
Recent killings included a shocking quadruple homicide Tuesday evening in the northern town of Abu Snan. One of the victims, Ghazi Sa’ab, was running for mayor in the upcoming municipal elections and had announced the launch of his campaign only hours prior to his death. The fatal attack came a day after the killing of Tira’s municipal director Abdul Rahman Kashua.
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