December 31, 2015 / 3:30 PM / 3 years ago

Israel to spend $3 billion more to improve living standards of Arab minority

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel will spend around 13 billion shekels ($3.3 billion) over the next five years to improve the standard of living of its Arab minority and narrow gaps with its Jewish population.

Arabs comprise nearly 21 percent of Israel’s 8.46 million population. The Arab Joint list - which combined four smaller political parties - is the third largest in Israel’s 120-seat parliament with 13 seats.

In a plan approved by the cabinet, investment will be boosted in education, infrastructure, culture, sports and transportation in Arab areas that have long been neglected or are not up to the same standards of Jewish citizens.

“This is an attempt to correct a historical wrong,” Eli Groner, director general of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), told Reuters on Thursday.

Groner said that in education, there is a gap between Jewish and Arab achievements in school, while Arab men often do not work in the professions they studied, he noted.

According to Tel Aviv University, Arabs comprise just 13 percent of Israel’s civilian labor force, while figures show 75 percent of Arab men work and just 33 percent of Arab women.

“We’re trying to address these issues while encouraging them to better integrate into Israeli society,” Groner said.

As part of the plan, there will be new industrial zones and sports stadiums, and more spending on transportation, roads and water supply.

“It’s a shift in allocating spending toward these priorities,” Groner said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a statement said the plan will strengthen law enforcement in the minority sector with emphasis on illegal construction.

“For the first time the Israeli government is changing the allocation mechanisms in government ministries so that Israel’s Arab citizens will receive their relative share in the state budget,” said Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel.

Reporting by Steven Scheer

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