The NGO Adalah maintained a database of more than 50 laws it claimed discriminated--either explicitly or in practice--against Arab citizens.
Arab citizens, many of whom self-identify as Palestinian, faced institutional and societal discrimination, particularly in the wake of a wave of terrorist attacks by individuals of Palestinian or Arab descent, which began in September 2015 and continued during the year. There were multiple instances of security services or other citizens racially profiling Arab citizens, as well as instances of revenge attacks directed towards or being carried out against Arabs.
In one case in October 2015, a 17-year-old Jewish Israeli stabbed four Arabs in the southern Israeli town of Dimona. When interrogated, he told police that his conviction that “all Arabs are terrorists” motivated him. Prime Minister Netanyahu condemned the attack. Authorities charged the attacker with four counts of attempted murder, and the case was pending as of the end of the year.
In January 2015 in Jerusalem, 10 Jewish assailants beat Tommy Hasson, a Druze veteran of the IDF, reportedly after they overheard him speaking Arabic. After police arrested several suspects, a judge found that assailants committed the attack with nationalistic motivations. The National Insurance Institute subsequently recognized Hasson as someone who survived “enemy hostilities.” Nonetheless, in September police closed the investigation without charges due to “lack of evidence and the inability to fully identify the attackers.”
There were no “price tag” attacks, which refers to violence by Jewish individuals and groups against non-Jewish individuals and property with the stated purpose of exacting a “price” for actions the government had taken against the group committing the violence. Attackers, however, invoked the term “price tag” in an incident that was a reaction to a terrorist attack by Palestinian individuals. In July the ISA arrested three minors on suspicion of burning cars and spray-painting in the village of Yafia one month earlier. According to police, two of the suspects admitted committing the vandalism as revenge for the June 8 terror attack at Sarona marketplace in Tel Aviv. Authorities indicted two of the minors for arson, malicious damage due to nationalistic motives, and obstruction of justice, and they indicted the third for failure to prevent a crime. The case continued as of year’s end. The government classifies price tag attacks as terrorism. Since 2013 the Ministry of Defense--which has jurisdiction only over the West Bank and not inside the Green Line--has defined any association of persons that uses the term “price tag” as an illegal association. In prior years the most common offenses, according to police, were attacks on vehicles, defacement of real estate, harm to Muslim and Christian holy sites, assault, and damage to agricultural lands.
In June 2015 arsonists burned a large section of the Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha and scrawled on the building’s stone walls sections of the Jewish prayer book that in this context denigrated Christians. In July 2015 the government announced five persons, including one minor, were responsible for the attack and filed indictments against two of them for aggravated arson, destruction of property due to hostility towards the public, conspiracy to commit a crime, and conspiracy for other acts, taking “administrative steps” against the other three. As of the end of the year, one of the suspects facing charges was under arrest and the other was under house arrest until the end of the court proceedings. The investigation also led to the sentencing of another suspect for two years’ imprisonment on charges of sedition (possessing a publication that incites to violence or terror, according to the government). After initially declining to pay for repairs of the church, saying it did not fall under protections against acts of terror, the government agreed to pay 3.9 million shekels ($1 million) to restore the site. As of the end of the year, the government had transferred only 1.5 million shekels ($397,000), and negotiations continued for another 800,000 shekels ($212,000).
The law exempts Arab citizens, except for Druze men, from mandatory military service, but a small percentage served voluntarily. Those who performed military service received some societal and economic benefits; those who did not sometimes faced discrimination in hiring. Citizens generally are ineligible to work in companies with defense contracts or in security-related fields if they have not served in the military. Some Druze and a small number of Jewish conscientious objectors opposed inclusion in mandatory military service, and authorities sometimes jailed them for refusing to serve.
The government managed a National Civil Service program for citizens not drafted for military service, giving Arabs, some ultra-Orthodox Jews, Orthodox Jewish women, and others the opportunity to provide public service and thus be eligible for the same financial benefits accorded military veterans. Many in the Arab community opposed the National Civil Service program because it operated under the auspices of government ministries associated with security. There were also multiple instances of ultra-Orthodox communities ostracizing ultra-Orthodox soldiers for serving in the military. In November 2015 the Knesset voted to extend deadlines for mandatory conscription of men in the ultra-Orthodox community until 2020.
In December 2015, following negotiations with the Arab community, the cabinet approved a five-year plan for development of the Arab sector in the fields of education, transportation, commerce and trade, employment, and policing. The resolution pledges as much as 15 billion shekels ($3.9 billion), including mandated percentages from each ministry’s budget, to increase economic integration and reduce societal gaps among Arab citizens over five years. It excluded mixed Jewish-Arab cities, such as Lod and Ramle, and unrecognized Bedouin villages. The plan is under the supervision of the Authority for Economic Development of the Arab Population in the Ministry of Social Equality. The Arab community welcomed the plan’s adoption, albeit with skepticism that the authorities would fully implement it. On August 25, the Ministry of Construction and Housing announced agreements with 15 Arab localities for planning “hundreds of housing units and commercial zones” in the first implementation of the plan. The government earmarked more than 2.1 billion shekels ($550 million) to be used during the year, and most of these allocations were distributed to the relevant government authorities. These included 424 million shekels ($112 million) for transportation and infrastructure improvements, 91 million shekels ($24 million) to expand higher education opportunities, and 215 million shekels ($57 million) for the development of industrial areas and support of small- and medium-sized businesses. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that the minister for social equality instructed the Economic Development Authority to monitor the activities of each office allocated money under this plan and provide for efficient implementation.
During the year authorities continued implementing earlier allocations including: a resolution from 2014, which budgeted 664 million shekels ($175 million) for improving infrastructure in Arab localities, including transportation, water and sewage, tourism, industrial areas, vocational training, sports halls, and personal security; and a resolution from 2013, which allocated 54 million shekels ($14 million) for improving education, employment, health services, and infrastructure in Druze localities in the Golan Heights.
In a 2014 study, the NGO Sikkuy found that the main cause of unequal resources for many Arab local authorities, including high schools, was their low tax base, requiring central government investment in economic and social development. The government initiated and continued several programs to support disadvantaged populations and periphery communities in general and the Arab community in particular.
The government employed affirmative action policies for persons of Arab descent, including members of Druze communities, and for non-Arab, Muslim Circassian communities, in the civil service. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as of the end of the year, there were 4,000 non-Jewish employees in the civil service. The Education Ministry continued implementing a plan to place 500 Arab teachers in positions in predominantly Jewish schools by 2020. The plan offered partial solutions for many Arabs with teaching credentials who could not find work as teachers and for Hebrew-language schools that experienced a shortage of teachers in key subject areas including math, English, and science. As of August there were 588 Arab educators teaching in Jewish schools, according to the news outlet Israel Hayom. Out of 24,000 participants at employment centers designed for unemployed Arab, Druze, and Circassian men and women, 13,600 became employed from 2012 to 2015.
Separate school systems within the public and semipublic domains produced a large variance in education quality, with Arab, Druze, and ultra-Orthodox students passing the matriculation exam at lower rates than those of their non-ultra-Orthodox Jewish counterparts. The government noted that the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Ministry of Education operated programs to provide free matriculation-exam coaching to Arab students. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, the percentage of students in Israel in 2015-16 who were Arab was 14.3 percent in undergraduate programs, 11.7 percent in master’s programs, and 6 percent in PhD programs. While these percentages were lower than the Arab percentage of the country’s total population, they were higher than the percentages in 1999-2000 (9.8 percent, 3.6 percent, and 2.8 percent, respectively). The government operated several scholarship programs specifically targeting the Arab population, including 650 scholarships valued at 10,000 shekels ($2,600) per year each for Arab students enrolled in a first-degree program. Statistics researched by Ha’aretz--TheMarker and the Knesset research center found that Arab students received slightly higher per-capita government support than their non-ultra-Orthodox Jewish peers. Two ultra-Orthodox school systems continued to benefit from higher funding percentages than all other school systems. Mossawa claimed that Arab schools faced a shortage of up to 3,000 classrooms as of August. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in December 2015 the Council for Higher Education invited proposals for the establishment and operation of a state-funded college in an Arab locality in northern Israel.
Representation of Arabs and the Arabic language in Israeli media was far less than their proportion in the population. Mossawa reported that two Israeli television stations, Channels Two and 10, used less than 0.5 percent of their annual budget for Arab programming, and only 2 to 3 percent of experts interviewed in Israeli media were Arabs. There was only one licensed Arabic radio station, based in Nazareth, but 16 Arabic stations broadcast without licenses. On May 8, the government passed a resolution instructing government offices to increase the diversity of the individuals shown in their advertisements and other publications.
In November the Ministry of Transportation removed automated audio announcements in Arabic from urban busses in Be’er Sheva after receiving complaints from the mayor and residents shortly after the announcements began. Busses continued to display electronic announcements in Arabic and Hebrew.
Approximately 93 percent of land is in the public domain, including approximately 12.5 percent owned by the NGO Jewish National Fund (JNF), whose statutes prohibit sale or lease of land to non-Jews. Following a 2004 lawsuit filed by human rights organizations, the attorney general ruled in 2005 that the government may not discriminate against Arab citizens in marketing and allocating lands it manages, including those of the JNF. The human rights organizations withdrew their petition on January 27 after the Israel Lands Administration (ILA) and JNF made a new arrangement in which Arab citizens will be allowed to participate in all bids for JNF land, but the ILA will grant the JNF another parcel of land whenever an Arab citizen of Israel wins a bid. The NGO Adalah, one of the petitioners in the case, noted that this arrangement solves the specific problem of discrimination in JNF bids but not the underlying ethnonational bias behind the policy.
New construction was illegal in towns that did not have an authorized outline plan for development, which is the legal responsibility of local authorities. Arab communities that still lacked fully approved planning schemes could turn to their municipal authorities to develop them, according to the government. The government stated that as of August 2015, 131 of 133 Arab localities had approved outline plans for development, 84 of which the National Planning Administration furthered. It stated that outline plans advanced by the Ministry of Interior added an average of 70 percent to existing localities’ lands and noted that delays in the approval of plans often related to the lack of vital infrastructure such as sewage systems. The government noted that a government decision in July 2015 includes multiple provisions on the subject of housing problems in Arab localities. On August 25, the Ministry of Construction and Housing announced agreements with 15 Arab localities for planning “hundreds of housing units and commercial zones.”
NGOs serving the Arab population, however, alleged discrimination in planning and zoning rights, noting regional planning and zoning approval committees did not have Arab representation, and planning for their areas was much slower than that for Jewish municipalities, leading frustrated citizens to build or expand their homes without legal authorization and risk a government-issued demolition order. A “Target Price” housing program of the ILA, designed to reduce the cost of housing by as much as one-fifth of the national average price, did not include Arab municipalities. Additionally, some communities discriminated against Arabs. Adalah alleged in 2015 that an association that won a tender to market new apartments in the Oranim neighborhood of Ma’a lot-Tarshiha refused to sell them to Arabs.
Arab communities in the country generally faced economic difficulties, and the Bedouin segment of the Arab population continued to be the most disadvantaged. More than half of the estimated 230,000 Bedouin population lived in seven government-planned communities. Approximately 30,000 lived in the 11 recognized villages of the Nave Midbar and al-Qasum Regional Councils, formerly the Abu Basma Regional Council, and approximately 60,000 Bedouins lived in 35 unrecognized tent or shack villages that did not have water and electricity or educational, health, and welfare services. NGOs, Bedouin leaders, and the government noted that Bedouin towns ranked lowest on the country’s standardized socioeconomic scale, with most ranking a one out of 10 and only Rahat, Hura, and Segev Shalom ranking two out of 10.
While 11 of 13 recognized villages had plans that defined the areas of the village, in 10 of these villages, all residences remained unconnected to the electricity grid, there was no connection to the sewage disposal system, there were no paved roads, and only six villages had high schools, according to the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality. Additionally, in 10 of the recognized villages, residents were responsible for providing their own water infrastructure to bring water from a central line to their property.
(See section 1.e. for issues of demolition and restitution for Bedouin property.)
The law bars family reunification when a citizen’s spouse is a non-Jewish citizen of Iran, Iraq, Syria, or Lebanon. Citizens may apply for temporary visit permits for Palestinian male spouses age 35 or older or Palestinian female spouses age 25 or older, but they may not receive residency based on their marriage and have no path to citizenship. In response to a 2010 Supreme Court recommendation to provide social services to an estimated 5,000 Palestinian spouses of citizens granted “staying permits” to reside legally in the country, in July the government issued regulations governing the provision of health insurance to individuals with a staying permit who were not being upgraded to temporary resident status.
In July police arrested more than 50 members of La Familia, the official fan club for the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team known for racist anti-Arab chants, on weapons and assault charges and sentenced a fan to one month in prison for shouting racist remarks. Beitar Jerusalem was the only one of the four largest soccer teams in Israel that had never employed an Arab player.
The government generally prohibited Druze citizens and residents from visiting Syria. The government suspended a program, coordinated with the UN Disengagement Observer Force, that enabled Druze residents of the Golan Heights to attend college in Syria and permitted the Druze religious leadership to attend religious meetings in Damascus. The action was the consequence of escalated military and armed group activity on the Syrian side of the border that prompted the continued closure of the Israel-Syria access point overseen by the UN Disengagement Observer Force. Authorities suspended the program that allowed noncitizen Druze residents from the Golan Heights to visit holy sites in Syria through an ICRC-managed pilgrimage program in 2014. The government has prevented family visitations to Syria for noncitizen Druze since 1982. The government facilitated the entry of several hundred Syrian nationals, including Druze, to Israel to receive medical treatment.
An estimated population of 133,200 Ethiopian Jews faced persistent societal discrimination, although officials and citizens quickly and publicly criticized discriminatory acts against them. On July 31, Prime Minister Netanyahu publicly received the recommendations of an interministerial team established to address racism against Israelis of Ethiopian origin, including the appointment of an individual in each ministry to serve as a focal point for combatting discrimination and racism and a faster mechanism to employ Ethiopian Israelis with academic degrees in public service. Netanyahu stated, “In the wake of this report we will take further steps, and I am pleased that there are people, men and women, who are determined to uproot this phenomenon from our lives.” Some Ethiopian-Israelis reached positions of leadership in the government, such as Lieutenant Colonel Avi Yitzhak, who graduated from the IDF’s course for brigade commanders in April, and Adenko Sabhat Haimovich and Esther Tapeta Gradi, selected in September by the Israeli Judicial Committee to serve as judges. There was one Ethiopian-Israeli member of Knesset.
Following the disappearance of Avera Mengistu, an Ethiopian Israeli who entered Gaza and was believed to have been apprehended by terrorist groups in September 2014, the military imposed a gag order on reporting on the case that lasted until July 2015. Family and friends of Mengistu alleged his case received inadequate attention from the government because he was Ethiopian. The prime minister subsequently visited the family. There were no updates on his case as of the end of the year.
In April 2015 Ethiopian-Israeli citizens protested against what they perceived to be discriminatory treatment in society. The galvanizing event for the protests was the publication of a video that showed a police officer and a police volunteer in Holon stopping and beating uniformed Ethiopian-Israeli soldier Demas Fekadeh (see section 2.b.). Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin, and many ministers and Knesset members condemned the attack against Fekadeh, praised his call to avoid violence, and promised to work to lessen socioeconomic gaps between sectors of society.
At a conference in Tel Aviv on August 30, Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich responded to a question about police violence against Ethiopians by stating, “Studies the world over, without exception, have shown that immigrants are more involved in crime than others,” and, therefore, “when a police officer meets a suspect, naturally enough his mind suspects him more than if he were someone else. That is natural.” Two days after an outcry against this apparent justification of excessive policing against Ethiopian-Israelis, Alsheich apologized for his comments.
In November the Israel Broadcasting Corporation published a recording of veteran mohel (practitioner of Jewish ritual circumcision) Rabbi Eliyahu Asulin of Hadera offering to facilitate training on Ethiopian-Israeli and Sudanese babies, which are marginalized and vulnerable segments of society. He explained that with these groups, “there’s no problem. Even if your cut isn’t straight, they won’t say anything, because they don’t understand anything.” Authorities suspended his license as a mohel for three years.
The Ministry of Health announced in December that it would no longer ban blood donations from Ethiopian-Israelis who immigrated from Ethiopia. The new guidelines will restrict donations only from those who had immigrated or returned to Israel from Ethiopia within the past year.
The government maintained several programs to address social, educational, and economic disparities between Ethiopian Israelis and the general population. Those gaps were notable. According to the newspaper Ha’aretz--The Marker, in 2015, 52 percent of Ethiopian-Israeli families, including 65 percent of Ethiopian-Israeli children, lived below the poverty line, and Ethiopian-Israelis registered for welfare at a rate double that of the general population. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, four government resolutions from February 2014 to February, totaling 500 million shekels ($130 million), aimed to improve the integration, health, education, and military service of Ethiopian-Israelis.
Isolated reports of discrimination by Ashkenazi Jews of European descent against Sephardic (Mizrachi) Jews of Middle Eastern heritage continued. Organizations representing Mizrachi Jews from various Middle Eastern countries claimed that government negligence in pursuing reparations for property losses for Jews from Arab countries and Iran had exacerbated social stratification along ethnic lines since the establishment of the state and during subsequent waves of (sometimes forced) immigration. Legislation dating to 2010 mandates any peace negotiation in which the country engages will preserve the rights to compensation of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran.
Over the past several years, the Jewish Agency brought approximately 200 Jews from Yemen to Israel in quiet operations, including 19 in March. In September the Ministry of Education announced that November 30 will be commemorated annually in Israeli schools as a day to learn about the heritage of Jews from Muslim countries and, specifically, their emigration from those countries in the late 1940s. This decision followed recommendations by a special committee earlier in the year to mandate Mizrachi studies in the school system.
In April the Israel Land Authority fined construction company Bemuna 323,000 shekels ($85,000) for a video marketing a housing project in Kiryat Gat to Ashkenazic Jews by mocking Sephardic Jews. According to ACRI, this was the first time authorities fined a construction company for discriminatory marketing.
In June Prime Minister Netanyahu appointed then minister without portfolio Tzachi Hanegbi to reopen government files regarding children who disappeared in Israel soon after immigrating to the country from Yemen in the late 1940s and early 1950s. In July, Hanegbi affirmed that perpetrators, whom he did not identify, abducted hundreds of Yemeni children from their parents, but he did not say why or where they went. Minister Hanegbi’s recommendation, after reviewing documents from about 3,600 cases, was to disclose all material except that which would violate confidentiality requirements, such as the names of adopted children. The materials of the commission of inquiry were posted on a public website on December 28.