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EU envoys concerned about Israel's Arab minority

29 December 2011, 20:49 CET
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(JERUSALEM) - European Union ambassadors in Israel have voiced concern about the Jewish state's treatment of its Arab minority, in an unprecedented report on the issue obtained by AFP.

"While the international community is focused predominantly on restarting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, we should see Israel's treatment of its minorities as a core issue, not second tier to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," the confidential 27-page study said.

"Israel's Arab population is measurably worse off than its non-Arab majority in terms of income, education, housing and access to land," it said in a draft dated November 2011.

"It must be noted that there exist security policies which are explicitly targeted against the Arab citizens of Israel," it added.

"In March 2011 the Israeli Supreme Court requested an explanation of the automatic profiling of all Israeli Arab citizens as a security threat by the Israeli airport security authorities."

Although the EU has repeatedly published reports on conditions of Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, this is its first on the 1.37 million Arab citizens of Israel.

They are the remainder, or descendants, of Palestinians who did not flee or were not driven out during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war accompanying the foundation of the Jewish state.

They make up slightly more than 20 percent of Israel's current population.

The EU document cited data from the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics showing that average incomes in the Israeli Arab community in 2008 amounted to only 61 percent of those of Jewish households.

The report also expresses concern over a recent spate of draft bills which, had they passed into law, "would have imposed limits on the fundamental freedoms" of Arab citizens.

"So far the checks and balances of the several stages of Knesset scrutiny and the recommendations of the Knesset legal adviser have proved sufficient to block or dilute the most discriminatory drafts," it says.

It also criticises, however, hostile statements by some Israeli-Arab religious and political leaders whose comments are widely reported.

"The Arab leaders most visible to most Israelis remain those at the extremes," it says. "This feeds the narrative that Arabs are inherently disloyal."

A survey published in May by Haifa University showed a hardening of attitudes on both sides, with the number of Israeli Arabs denying Israel's right to exist as a Jewish and Zionist state rose to 66.4 percent while 29.5 percent opposed its existence under any terms.

It found that 32.5 percent of Jewish Israelis supported revoking their Arab compatriots' right to vote, compared with 24 percent in 1985.

It said that 62.5 percent of the Arab respondents saw the Jews as "foreign settlers who do not fit into the region and will eventually leave, when the land will return to the Palestinians."

In its recommendations, the European report proposes that the EU "monitor and lobby against potentially discriminatory draft legislation" by the Israeli parliament.

Israel's Haaretz daily quoted diplomatic sources as saying that a final version of the report deleted the recommendations following objections from member states, among them The Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Poland.

"This report, the drafting of which started about a year ago, was the subject of several discussions," Roelof Buffinga, deputy chief of mission at the Dutch embassy in Tel Aviv, told AFP.

"Each of the 27 countries of the European Union has its view of things."

Israel has refused to comment on the document's content as long as it has not been formally presented, but speaking on condition of anonymity a senior official said it raised a possible "European interference" in Israeli affairs.

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