The List’s support of Benny Gantz for PM reflects the improving fortunes of Israel’s Arabs and their desire to further integrate into Israeli society.
After last month’s Israeli election, under the leadership of Ayman Odeh, the majority of the Arab Joint List recommended Benny Gantz to be the country’s next prime minister. They made this unprecedented decision even though he was the military leader of the last Gaza war. Indeed, this was the reason why the nationalist Balad party broke from Odeh and refused to back Gantz’s candidacy. This essay will detail the background that led the other Joint List parties to support him.
At the beginning of the 21st century, Arab Israelis had separate lives in underfunded towns with deplorable transportation and inferior schools. In response, the Arab community strongly embraced the 2006 Future Visions report that called for Israeli-Arab autonomy. It was a wake-up call to the Jewish elite.
To increase Arab female employment, the government funded training programs, improved educational support, subsidized employment, expanded transportation networks, and built industrial parks near Arab towns. As a result, the labor-force-participation rate of Arab women between 30 to 39 years old increasedfrom 24 percent in 2005 to 34 percent in 2010. Targeted funding of Arab schools has also led to a 79 percent increase in Arab enrollment in bachelor’s degree programs since 2010. By 2017, Arab students make up 17 percent of all students in these programs.
There have also been successful efforts to increase Arab participation in the tech sector. By 2016, Arab enrollment at the Technion — considered Israel’s MIT — reached 22 percent, equally divided between men and women. To aid retention, counseling resources were added, and the university began publishing all significant college materials in Arabic for its Arab students. The initiatives were a success: Ha’aretz recently reportedthat, “In 2008, there were 350 Israeli Arab high-tech engineers, all of them men. Now there are 6,600, one fourth of them women.”
When the Future Visions report was issued, Arabs composed only 5 percent of government employees. To increase that number, the government required at least 30 percent of new hires to be Arabs. Since then, Arab government employment has increased by 88 percent, and Arabs now are 10 percent of all government workers.
In 2007, a national-service option was created. It pays female Arab high-school graduates for up to two years to perform social services in their home communities. Palestinian nationalists fiercely attacked the program. “Anyone who volunteers for national service will be treated like a leper and will be vomited out of Arab society,” Jamal Zahalka, a lawmaker with Balad, told a rally in 2008. Balad’s intimidation efforts initially met with some success, but as more Arab-Israeli women reaped its benefits, the program became more popular. By 2017, there were 4,500 Arab women enrolled, up from 600 in 2010.