Disclosure of Secret Report on Attitude Toward Israel’s Arab Population Stirs Controversy

Publication of a secret report addressed to Premier Yitzhak Rabin which recommended that the government adopt a hard line toward Israel’s Arab population, stirred a storm of controversy in the Knesset yesterday and demands for dismissal of a ranking official of the Interior Ministry identified as one of the report’s co-authors.

The document appeared in full yesterday in Al Hamishmar, the Mapam daily, which said it was written by Yisrael Koenig, the Interior Ministry’s representative for northern Israel, Zvi Aldorati, Mayor of Migdal HaEmek, a new development town near Nazareth and two Labor Party members who were unidentified. It was written several months ago and sent unsigned to several persons, including Rabin, and was marked “secret.”

Aides to the Premier said that he never read it and that the suggestions it contained were never seriously considered. But Mapam MK Aharon Efrat demanded that Interior Minister Yosef Burg fire Koenig immediately because he was not fit to deal with a region heavily populated by Arabs.

Efrat’s demand was backed by several other MKs who submitted questions and presented motions for the agenda when the Knesset convened for a special recess session to take up other matters. Another special session was demanded to deal with the revelations by the newspaper.

NUB OF THE ARGUMENT

The issue which flared in public is one that has been vigorously debated behind the scenes in government and Knesset circles ever since Arabs rioted in Galilee last March 30 to protest government land confiscations. The nub of the argument is whether Israel’s Arab population should be given full, equal rights with all other Israeli citizens or whether the government should adopt a tough policy, supporting “positive” Arabs who cooperate with the authorities while cracking down on the “negative” ones.

Rabin, and his advisor on Arab affairs, Shmuel Toledano, reportedly favor a liberal policy toward the Arab population. Koenig is a hard-liner whose views are supported in Likud–though with many exceptions–and by certain elements in the Labor Alignment. One of the latter is Aldorati who is a candidate to head the Labor Party’s Arab department.

Koenig, who is in charge of a region where Arabs comprise nearly 50 percent of the population, has been accused by local Arab councils of deliberate discrimination in his handling of complex relationships between the Interior Ministry and Arab municipalities. Koenig claims that he has only implemented the law. Following the March riots, he apparently felt it was time to change what he regarded as a too liberal policy toward the Arabs.

The secret memorandum to Rabin included suggestions that Arab students be encouraged to emigrate, quotas against Arabs in the universities, reduction of State welfare benefits for large Arab families and punishment for Arabs who oppose the government.

VIEWS REJECTED BY MINISTRY

Excerpts from the secret report have appeared in various newspapers during the past few months without attribution. In some cases they reflected the publishers’ belief that the Arabs were indeed a danger; in others, they were used to indicate that an unhealthy atmosphere prevailed among some Interior Ministry officials.

Al Hamishmar, which takes a “doveish” position on Arab affairs, apparently decided to publish the document in full in the hope that it would lead to house-cleaning in the Interior Ministry, meaning that Koenig and his allies would go.

Barely noticed today was a statement by an Interior Ministry spokesman dissociating the Ministry from the views expressed in the document. Observers expect the matter to become a political issue of the first magnitude that will not die down until the elections which are more than a year off.

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