Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday told top police commanders during a meeting about Arab organized crime leaders that they may need to “kill some of them.”
The premier made the comments during a meeting with senior law enforcement officials in charge of tackling violent crime in the Arab community, the Haaretz daily reported.
“There is a point in a battle where you break the will of the enemy to fight, when you break their spirit,” he said in a video from the event in Tuba-Zangariyye.
“You’ll catch, incarcerate, maybe kill some of them, and the rest will disperse when they realize the battle is lost,” Netanyahu said.
“I want you to keep telling the criminal organizations: Who do you think you are? We will bring all the power of the State of Israel, and all the technology. We will fight you with a war of attrition,” Netanyahu said.
Arab leaders have accused police of years of neglect and a failure to properly enforce the law in their communities, as well as racism.
According to the Abraham Initiative, a civil society group that promotes social cohesion between Arabs and Jews in Israel, 24 Arabs have been killed in the country this year.
Those deaths have included a number of high-profile cases, including 22-year-old nursing student Ahmad Hejazi, a bystander who was shot dead during a gun battle between police and suspected criminals in Tamra, and 14-year-old Mohammed Adas who was shot dead outside his home in Jaljulia earlier this month.
Last month at least 35 people were injured, including Joint List lawmaker Yousef Jabareen and the Umm al-Fahm mayor, at a protest against what they called the police’s failure to stem a rising tide of violence in Arab communities. Arab Israeli officials accused police of racist behavior and using excessive force.
In 2020, more than 90 percent of shootings in Israel took place in Arab communities, according to police. Arab Israelis account for around a fifth of the country’s population.
The premier has recently been campaigning for support from Arab Israelis ahead of next week’s elections, in a stark about-face from his party’s previous unsubstantiated warnings of electoral fraud in Arab communities and repeated attacks on Arab lawmakers.
The fight against violent crime in their communities is the top priority for many Arab voters.
Netanyahu’s government on March 1 approved an NIS 150 million ($45 million) crime-fighting proposal for Arab communities, including expanding police stations and creating a new dedicated unit, likening the struggle against organized crime to the fight against terrorism.
Nonetheless, the plan falls far short of what Arab Israeli politicians and civil society leaders had publicly hoped for. A 2016 government decision on fighting organized crime in Arab society allocated around NIS 2 billion ($650 million) over four years to the issue; Arab Israelis had suggested a similar figure.
Most Arab Israeli leaders scoff at the suggestion that Netanyahu can ease the crisis, insisting the solution lies in tackling police prejudice against Arabs, which they argue has proliferated during the premier’s 12-year tenure.
Agencies contributed to this report.