The Jerusalem Post

Credit where it is due

- • By MOHAMMAD A. SALHUT The writer is a graduate student at Columbia University and the son of Palestinia­n-Israeli immigrants from Jerusalem to the United States of America. He can be reached at

While Israel transition­s to a new government led by a diverse political coalition, it is perhaps the most appropriat­e time for an assiduous intellectu­al reflection on the last decade under former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s leadership.

As the son of immigrants from Jerusalem to the United States whose family remains almost entirely in the Holy City, I have had the opportunit­y to witness the incrementa­l changes effected by government­s led by Netanyahu during each successive visit to Israel over the last decade.

While the deeds and perhaps faults of Netanyahu have been, are, and will continue to be litigated in the public sphere and beyond, his commitment to the Arab sector during his time at the state’s helm is to be celebrated.

Appreciati­ng the present tumult associated with the incoming government’s novelty, and not mistaking the sometimes-hideous anti-Arab rhetoric the prime minister himself espoused during electoral campaigns to frighten the Right into voting, Netanyahu has done more for Arab-Israelis than any of his predecesso­rs

Shortly following the establishm­ent of the State in 1948, documents obtained by Haaretz demonstrat­e a collective, shared belief among past state leadership that “the formation of an educated class” among those Arabs who remained in Israel was to be discourage­d or resisted.

Indeed, in the decades since, Arab-Israelis have gone on to

attain extraordin­ary degrees of social and economic mobility within Israel; from becoming doctors to Supreme Court Justices to seminal innovators in the hi-tech landscape. While recent events suggest more inclusiona­ry work is required despite demonstrab­le and continued progress, let us soberly recount Netanyahu’s achievemen­ts.

Data released by the Israeli government suggest a near 100% increase in the number of Arab Israeli students pursuing bachelor’s degrees at Israeli

institutio­ns of higher education over the last 10 years alone. The number of Arab students pursuing even higher educationa­l achievemen­ts such as master’s or doctoral degrees has also substantia­lly grown during the same time period.

Moreover, the prime minister was the sponsor of a fiveyear plan, approved in late 2015, directing unpreceden­ted national resources to the social, civic and economic well-being of Israel’s minority citizenrie­s. His support, while conditiona­l,

was offered despite very real resistance from Israel’s political Right and during the nadir of his relationsh­ip with Arab-Israelis, following his comments during the 2015 election cycle.

Within Israel, allowing a bifurcated society to develop, one in which Arab-Israelis are viewed as a threat – if not in a security context, a demographi­c one – only serves to harm communal interests. The exceptiona­l technologi­cal and financial achievemen­ts the country has realized present further opportunit­y for future government­s to continue Netanyahu’s efforts at societal transforma­tion. The challenges remain numerous: abundant objectivel­y discrimina­tory practices coupled with sharp domestic political divisions unquestion­ably hamper progress.

Yet still, Israel’s sustained success is necessaril­y predicated on supporting and investing in Israeli Arabs. For this or any successive government inaugurate­d to flourish, the shekels invested in expansion of educationa­l opportunit­y for Arab Israelis must be supplement­ed and increased. Netanyahu’s 2016 visit to an elementary school in Tamra, during which he encouraged Arab children to dream big and reach for the impossible, is an inspiratio­nal gesture to be built upon.

Ultimately, Israeli government­s have come to realize that the state’s security and prosperity moving forward are a symmetric function of how materially it invests in its minority population­s. Regarding Netanyahu, let us look beyond the current political infighting and the past hollow campaign rhetoric and focus instead on the real actions over the past decade.

For his help in increasing the number of Arab-Israeli youth with post-secondary degrees, for his commitment to an Israeli fabric inclusive of all its citizens, and for his leadership in taking the first of many steps in addressing preceding inequaliti­es, Israel owes Bibi respect and gratitude.

 ?? (Gil Eliyahu/Reuters) ?? THEN-PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu visits a coronaviru­s vaccinatio­n facility in Nazareth, ahead of the election in January.
(Gil Eliyahu/Reuters) THEN-PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu visits a coronaviru­s vaccinatio­n facility in Nazareth, ahead of the election in January.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Israel