As you probably noticed, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Right survived Election Day intact, emerging victorious despite an attack by Arab hordes (i.e. “voters”) descending on polling stations by the busload.
By Monday evening President Reuven Rivlin had received endorsements from a total of 67 MKs, recommending that Netanyahu be tasked with forming the next coalition. As anyone familiar with Israeli politics knows, now is when the real fun begins, when the ruling party starts doling out the ministerial portfolios to the parties making up the governing coalition.
The most prestigious portfolio – the Defense Ministry – will almost certainly remain with the Likud, while other top portfolios like the Foreign and Finance ministries may be up for grabs, although there are already strong indications who will receive those. There has been some talk that the Public Security Ministry may go to Kulanu’s No. 2 Yoav Galant, former head of the IDF Southern Command; or to Ayelet Shaked, No. 2 on the Bayit Yehudi list, who has in the past expressed interest in the post.
What’s certain is that the ministry will remain a second-tier portfolio that will not receive the interest it warrants from the coalition members.
The fact that Public Security is a non-prestigious portfolio speaks volumes about the low status held by law enforcement and the issue of crime – both of great importance to the quality of life in Israel and in how the state relates to its Arab citizens.
The ministry is in charge of not only the police (including the Border Police) but also of the Prisons Service and of Fire and Rescue Services. It is responsible for tens of thousands of public employees whose careers are devoted to the cause of public safety, in one of the least safe regions in the world. It is the ministry that is ultimately responsible for handling much of the violence that relates to conflict with the Palestinians.
This was seen most clearly this past year during police measures to calm tension on the Temple Mount, and the deployment of massive reinforcements of officers to Jerusalem to stop a wave of lone-wolf terror attacks and violent rioting against security forces.
These are incidents that, if handled carelessly, have the ability to spiral out of control and take on dimensions far beyond that of simple riots – and have an impact beyond Israel’s borders. This requires strong and sound leadership.
The gravity of the portfolio should be more apparent in the wake of the controversy over Netanyahu’s race-baiting warning about Arab voters, just hours before the polls closed last week. The statement made waves in Israel and beyond, and represented yet another dark chapter in the state’s relations with its Arab citizens.
After his sweeping victory, Netanyahu said he would be the prime minister of all of Israel’s citizens – Jewish and otherwise – as did his aides. One defense offered repeatedly in the days to follow – including by Netanyahu himself on Monday – is that no government invested more in infrastructure in the Arab sector than did the Likud over the past six years, actions speaking more loudly than words.
If the Likud and the other parties in the governing coalition do believe this is the case, and are interested in showing they will govern for all citizens, a great place to start would be with the Public Security Ministry – which must be given the prominence it deserves.
Israel’s Arab citizens encounter law enforcement and the criminal justice system at a rate that is well out of proportion – they comprise 20 percent of the general population, and around half of the country’s murder victims.
Their communities are rife with illegal firearms and are hotbeds of drug dealing and gang warfare, and unlike their Jewish neighbors, for the Arab sector crime is always a major issue among voters.
If the new government were to launch a major effort to systematically fight illegal firearms in the Arab sector and to improve policing in Arab towns and communities, it could potentially help heal the damage caused by the prime minister on Election Day. It would send the message that while the Right certainly does not speak the language of tolerance, it will invest the resources necessary so that Israeli Arabs do not feel their families and communities are second-class citizens when it comes to security.
The onus also lies on the members of the Joint List, which will represent the Arab sector with 13 seats – the third-largest faction in the 20th Knesset – and should make itself a force in committee meetings dealing with public security issues.
The past public security minister, Yitzhak Aharonovitch, was a driven and passionate head of the ministry who spoke often about the need for greater cooperation between police and the Arab sector, and worked to achieve this goal. The next politician to hold the ministry must do more; he or she will also preside over what is expected to be a years-long process, wherein the Israel Police will work to solve the sexual harassment crisis that has shaken the organization over the past few years.
Crime in the Arab sector won’t be a vote-getter as long as most Israeli Arabs don’t vote for Zionist parties, but tackling this issue would go a long way towards ensuring that Israel in practice – if not always in words – is a country of all of its citizens.