Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office promised on Wednesday to eventually unfreeze funds that were supposed to be transferred to Arab municipalities but were held up by the Ministry of Finance.
The Prime Minister's Office said that a monitoring process would first need to be put in place before the funding goes through, however, Netanyahu gave no details as to what that review would entail or how long it would take.
"The Arab citizens of Israel deserve what every citizen deserves and I am committed to that. This is my demand from all government ministries, and this will be done after an inspection that will ensure that the funds will indeed reach their destination for the benefit of the Arab citizens of Israel," Netanyahu said.
The prime minister added that the funds would go "to the Arab citizens of Israel and not anywhere else."
Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich defended his decision to freeze NIS 200 million (about $53.8 million) for Arab municipalities and a higher education plan for East Jerusalem.
In a statement to the press on Wednesday, Smotrich said he was waiting until control mechanisms are established and claimed that the funds were originally pledged in an agreement between the former Bennett-Lapid government and the Arab parties, with whom he refuses to cooperate, according to Israel's Maariv news outlet.
Smotrich stressed that separates the right to government services that every citizen has from his "resolute opposition to any cooperation with Knesset members from Ra'am and the Joint List, who support terrorism and regularly side with the enemy during war."
"My current decision to freeze a small budget... to condition it on the implementation of supervision and control mechanisms is intended to ensure that this money reaches you and not the members of crime and terrorism that harm you first and foremost," Smotrich said in a statement directed toward Israel's Arab citizens, he said:
"The Arab citizens of Israel are entitled to the best services every citizen in the State of Israel is entitled to," he added, affirming that Netanyahu supported his decision.
The public outcry against Smotrich's decision, including accusations of racism and criticism from within the coalition, continued throughout Wednesday.
Smotrich also claimed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu supported the decision to freeze a higher education plan for East Jerusalem.
Over 1,500 artists including writers, poets, directors and actors signed a petition to demand the immediate release of the funds, The Jerusalem Post reported.
The petition specifically mentions the NIS 34 million funding (about $9.15 million) intended to support Arab cultural institutions and was part of the overall budget.
“We, hundreds of creators from all creative fields in Israel, view with great severity Minister Smotrich's attempt to damage the education and culture of the Arab society in Israel,” the artists wrote in their petition.
“Minister Smotrich is trying in every way to cause unrest among the Arab citizens of the country, to deepen the discrimination against them, and to eliminate the contribution of the Arab society in Israel to the development and prosperity of Israel as a Jewish, democratic and egalitarian state.”
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The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.