(This post originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post weekend magazine on February 13th, 2015)
To paraphrase Naftali Bennett, if you are reading this column in a café, watch out: Arabs will steal your laptop.
Speaking at a conference at Tel Aviv University on Sunday, the head of the Bayit Yehudi party said public security in Israel had reached a low point, then cherry-picked some examples.
“Anyone who has toured the Negev in recent years knows they can’t leave their car at the small makhtesh [crater] or next to one of the rivers, because it’s a sure thing the cars will be broken into or stolen – also in Petah Tikva, and the Galilee. And farming equipment and tractors are stolen from farmers.’’ Turning to east Jerusalem, he said, “You can’t even go to the Mount of Olives or Mount Scopus anymore. And it’s already impossible to enter any Arab village or city. This, first off, has an effect on the Arab citizens – because the state decided that the rule of law is maybe in Tel Aviv, Haifa or Ra’anana, but not in these places.”
To be fair to Bennett, at no point did he say “Arabs will steal your car,” as some reported. Still, anyone who’s lived in Israel for five minutes can read between the lines here. Farming equipment in the Negev, car theft in the Galilee, rock throwers in east Jerusalem, and the dangers that you – everyday (Jewish) citizen of Israel – face upon entering an Arab village or city, all very clearly say to the Israeli ear: The Arab citizens are a public security threat, both national and criminal, both in terms of property crime and violent crime, for the Jewish citizens of Israel.
Forget the fact that actually it’s not impossible to enter an Arab village or town in Israel – a statement almost along the lines of the Fox News claim that whole swaths of Paris are no-go zones for police and non-Muslims. Forget about the fact that the vast majority of the car bombs that blew up in Israeli streets over the past few years were part of feuds between Jewish gangsters, and were detonated in Jewish neighborhoods.
Forget the battered women – Jewish and Arab – who have been killed by their spouses in recent years, after police and the system failed to protect them. Forget the countless small businessmen – Jew and Arab alike – across Israel being extorted by Jewish and gentile gangsters.
Forget the man who was a witness in an extortion complaint against a Jewish gangster and was blown up in his car last month in Hod Hasharon, not far from Bennett’s Ra’anana home.
Forget all of them: Public security is only an issue, only a campaign talking point, when it involves threats – exaggerated or otherwise – that Arabs pose to Jews in Israel.
Bennett was right when he said that crime in Arab communities first affects Arabs, and was also right to say that the state has neglected these areas, preserving the rule of law for places like Tel Aviv. Still, there’s a right way and a wrong way to talk about crime in the Arab sector.
Crime is one of the main issues affecting Arab communities in Israel, along with unemployment, poor infrastructure and poverty. The state does not deal with the local infrastructure or enforce local ordinances like it does in Jewish cities, and police do not respond to violent crimes with the same seriousness that they do when a shooting or stabbing happens in a Jewish town.
The state and the police aren’t the only ones – the media do the same. An underworld shooting in Tel Aviv is frontpage news; one in Tira, Tuba-Zanghariya or Tel Sheva warrants a brief, maybe more if it’s a slow news day. That’s why Israel Police Chief Insp.-Gen. Yohanan Danino said, after the fatal drive-by on the Tel Aviv promenade near Jaffa last February, that “if this had been 50 meters south [in Jaffa], no one would have cared – but because it was next to the Tahana [entertainment] center, everyone was screaming to the high heavens.”
He got some grief for the quote, but he was right, basically.
It’s no secret that crime rates in the Arab sector are disproportionately high.
According to a 2011 report by the Public Security Ministry, 67 percent of murder cases involved Israeli Arabs, as did 70% of attempted murders. Arab offenders were also represented in a disproportionate percentage of assault, robbery and arson cases, according to the report.
The issue was highlighted by Welfare and Social Services Minister Meir Cohen in January, when he told a conference in Kafr Kasim that around 50% of Israeli murder victims are Arabs – despite the fact that they make up only around 20% of the population.
At the same gathering, Nohad Ali, a sociologist from the University of Haifa, presented research he had compiled with the Aman Center and the university, which examined data on violence in Arab society between 2007 and 2013.
Ali said at the meeting that the Arab sector in Israel has one of the highest levels of violence, if compared to Arab countries in the region. The data showed that violence among Jews decreased from 2005 to 2013, while violence in the Arab sector increased from 2006 to 2011, and that 70% of attempted murders take place in the Arab sector.
They also found that 95% of the Arab population in Israel sees violence as the No. 1 problem in their society.
Tackling the violence wreaking havoc in the Arab sector – where the amount of illegal firearms is multitudes higher than in Israeli Jewish society – is one of Israel’s main public security issues, even though the victims are predominantly other Arabs.
Crime and public security should be a top election issue, not only when it involves cases where the victims are Jews, or “one of us.” This comes sharply into focus in light of recent outrage, sparked by the latest case of a Druse soldier who reported being beaten after being overheard speaking Arabic. The outrage is very justified, but I assume it would be far more muted if the victim of such an alleged hate crime was an Arab, Muslim or otherwise, who did not serve in the IDF – and was not one of us.
Politicians across the political spectrum – including Bennett – have almost entirely abandoned crime in their election campaigns, preferring instead to argue over matters like who’s the bigger Zionist.
Though it probably won’t earn them many votes, it’d be refreshing to see a politician in this election cycle talk about how his party can make Israel a safer place for all citizens, even if they live in Arab towns – those no-go zones Bennett warned about – where no one will vote for Bayit Yehudi.