The Mossawa Center, in collaboration with Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, MKs Ahmad Tibi and Jamal Zahalka and the Committee of Arab Mayors, held the conference at the Knesset Finance Committee as part of the efforts to monitor the state budget allocations and advocate for the needs of the Arab community. On the same day, the government submitted the proposed budget to the Knesset . In late January the Mossawa Center sent a letter to Ministers and Members of the Knesset outlining its recommendations (more details here) and Knesset members and governmental representatives have since discussed this report submitted by MK Tibi. He remarked that “The Arab community has for many years suffered systemic discrimination in investment from the state budget”. Urgent areas of economic discrimination were discussed, with particular attention paid to discrepancies in budget allocations specified in Government Decision 922 and their implementation or lack thereof.
The Finance Committee demanded the preparation of a new economic plan that includes all sectors that were previously not included in Decision 922, including unrecognized villages, and mixed towns among district councils that all together constitute 15% of the Arab population of Israel. Director of the Economic Development Authority of Arab communities in the Prime Minister's Office, Ayman Sif, announced that 40% of the budget lines in Decision 922 are a concentration of already-existing budget lines and do not add any additional funding to the Arab community.
Finance Ministry representative, Bayan Wated, claimed that the ministry is promoting a change in budgetary mechanisms and that the government had invested NIS 3.1 billion in Arab society in 2016 and NIS 3.4 billion in 2017 with an additional NIS 500 million allocated in 2017 for the construction of Arab classrooms. The Mossawa Center disputed this statement, demonstrating that construction data obtained from the Freedom of Information Law contradicts the finance ministry’s claim. The data obtained demonstrate an insubstantial number of construction projects that cannot possibly justify such a sum.
The Committee concluded that the formation of a five year plan will be necessary in order to fight poverty in the Arab community and to decrease by 20% the number of families that fall under the poverty line.
The committee statement also included the following specific recommendations to various Ministries:
1) The allocation of NIS 2 billion for Arab towns in the 2019 state budget.
2) The implementation in 2018 of four previous governmental decisions. Not only does this include Decision 922 but those made by the government that arbitrarily separate members of the diverse Arab community, including Arab Bedouins in the North and those in the South, and the Arab Druze community.
3) The allocation of a specific budget to support hi-tech in the Arab community and to establish necessary facilities in Arab towns.
4) The allocation of NIS 500 million for the recognition of unrecognized villages in the Negev and the connection to necessary infrastructure.
5) The Ministry of Economics:
- The allocation of NIS 350 million for the establishment and activation of industrial zones.
- The allocation of NIS 200 million to promote employment, especially among women and youth.
6) The Ministry of Education:
- The allocation of NIS 300 million to decrease the gaps in teaching hours.
- The allocation of a budget to build classrooms in Arab schools.
7) The Ministry of Social Welfare:
- The allocation of NIS 200 million for building daycare centers.
- The allocation of NIS 200 million to enhance social welfare services and fight poverty.
8) The Ministry of Tourism:
- The allocation of NIS 200 million for building facilities and infrastructure for tourism in Arab towns.
9) The Ministry of Agriculture:
- The allocation of NIS 100 million for agriculture in Arab towns.
10) The Ministry of Transport:
- The allocation of NIS 500 million to decrease the gaps in transportation in Arab towns, to pave roads, and to develop vehicle infrastructure.
11) The Ministry of Building and Housing:
- The allocation of NIS 500 million to remedy the housing crisis in Arab towns.
12) The Ministry of Interior Affairs:
- The allocation of NIS 100 million for preparation in case of emergencies.
13) The Ministry of Culture:
- The allocation of NIS 50 million for investment in Arab culture.
14) The Ministry of Health:
- The allocation of NIS 200 million to address and close gaps in healthcare.
A closing statement to discussions emphasised that whilst Decision 922 is a step in the right direction, it is insufficient to meet all required needs and that the sum of NIS 15 billion was inadequate and an inaccurate amount. It was agreed by the Committee that the amount has been used as an empty signifier by the economic press to describe what is de facto not enough to resolve economic inequality amongst the Arab community in Israel. With this considered, it was underlined by the Committee that the budget should be implemented with total transparency, including an accurate record of budgets specifically allocated to Arab society.