The Jerusalem Post
Credit where it is due
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.