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Netanyahu promises to involve Israeli security agency to fight violent crime wave in Arab sector

Arab leaders and opposition criticize lack of government action, call for removal of Ben Gvir

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar at a pre-Passover toast on April 4, 2023. (Photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at his weekly cabinet meeting this morning that he wants to involve Israel’s Shin Bet security agency (ISA) in the fight against a wave of violent crime in Israel’s Arab sector.

“First, I would like to refer to the murders in the Arab sector, which have become a blight on the country. A considerable part of this crime is the result of crime organizations that are embittering the lives of Israel's Arab citizens,” Netanyahu said.

“We are determined to fight this deplorable phenomenon, especially the head of the snake – the criminal organizations,” Netanyahu continued.

The prime minister said he will convene a meeting of ministers and the attorney general to determine Shin Bet’s involvement “in a focused effort against the crime families.”

His remarks echo statements made National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who has called for such a measure several times in recent days.

Last week, Ben Gvir said he would demand that the cabinet to vote on the issue of enlisting Shin Bet in the fight against criminal violence in the Arab society.

Shin Bet leaders, however, are reportedly not eager to be involved.

The organization, which primarily works to prevent terror attacks from Palestinian terror groups is unclear about the legality of using its methods and tools on Arab-Israeli citizens.

Netanyahu’s comments indicate that he views ISA’s involvement as a stop-gap until more police can be hired and more police stations can be added in Arab communities. However, there is still concern about involving the ISA in investigations against citizens.

The prime minister responded to critics who called the move extreme, when he said: “Only this way will we be able to reverse the trend quickly and provide a response to Israel's Arab citizens who are hoping for the restoration of law and order in their lives.”

Israel’s previous government involved Shin Bet in the fight against criminal organizations but its involvement focused primarily on issues like weapons trafficking, which also impacts Palestinian terror groups.

In the meantime, Arab community leaders are concerned about bringing Shin Bet into the equation. They claim that Israel Police often ignore violence in the Arab sector involving criminal organizations, family feuds and violence against women.

Many Arab leaders also charge the government with deliberate neglect of the Arab sector.

Knesset Member Aida Touma-Suleiman, of the Hadash-Ta'al Arab party, claimed that Arab society is not a priority for the current government.

“We are not on the agenda of this government,” she said in an interview with i24 News about the rise in violence.  

The Ra'am Arab political party chairperson, Knesset Member Mansour Abbas, also criticized the government’s response.

“It is the duty of the state to provide security for citizens, but the ruling party does not rule,” he told Ynet News.

“National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir has failed – he's not good for the Arabs, and not good for the Jews,” Abbas said, adding that the government should “give the police more powers and more tools.”

Opposition leader and former Defense Minister Benny Gantz also criticized Netanyahu’s response to the wave of criminal violence in the Arab sector.

He echoed Abbas’ call for giving “tools to the police first” in the fight against violent crime.

Gantz also called on Netanyahu to fire Ben Gvir from his role as national security minister.

“Netanyahu should fire Ben Gvir,” Gantz said. “The price of keeping him in office is unprecedented.”

In a message posted to social media today, in both Hebrew and Arabic, Gantz also called on Arab citizens not to remain silent if they learn about threats or are threatened.

“I would like to appeal to the Arab citizens of Israel - this is a difficult time. We all go through it together with you and strengthen you. I ask you, if you hear, God forbid, about a person being threatened – do not be silent. If, God forbid, you are threatened, don't say "it won't happen to me". You too have a responsibility to change the situation, to demand and help the state to help you.”

“Only together, as one Israeli society, we can and must succeed in stopping the epidemic of violence,” Gantz added.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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