Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan on Monday morning blamed the violence of Arab society for a recent wave of murders in Israel’s Arab sector, drawing criticism from Arab Knesset members.

“Arab society—and I say this with great pain—is a very, very violent society,” said Erdan in an interview with Radio Jerusalem. “Instead of lawsuits, they pull out a knife.”

Erdan lamented the phenomenon of “honor killings,” and said he would not allow the discussion to fade into the background.

“A mother can allow her son to murder his sister because she’s going out with a man the family doesn’t like,” he said. “I will not allow this discussion to be sidetracked.”

Joint Arab List Party leader Knesset member Ayman Odeh railed against Erdan’s statement, accusing him of “ignoring the facts”—namely, that the murder rate in the Arab sector was “identical to the national average” prior to October 2000, but rose because “police left our streets to crime organizations and gangs.”

He accused Erdan of “hid[ing] behind racist claims” and said the blame “is not the result of Arab culture, but of government racism.”

“[Erdan is] a minister who sees us as enemies and refuses to protect us from criminal organizations which obtain the vast majority of [their] weapons from the army,” added Odeh.

Erdan’s statement came amid protests against increased violence within the country’s Arab communities, with thousands demonstrating over the weekend.

According to police, more than 70 murders have been reported in the Arab sector this year—almost as many as in the past two years combined.

Arab Israelis say police are lax about upholding law and protecting the public in Arab cities and neighborhoods. Police say they are doing everything they can to put a stop to violence, but need more cooperation from local leaders.

A report by Israel’s Channel 12 revealed that in a country where 21% of citizens are Arab, 93% of shootings are perpetrated by Arabs, as are 64% of murders, 61% of arson crimes, 56% of illegal weapons sales and ownership and 47% of robberies.

Yousef Jabareen, another Joint List MK, tweeted that the “flawed culture is the racist ruling culture that sees Arab citizens as second-class citizens and as members of an inferior culture.”

After receiving pushback from Arab leaders, Erdan said his statements had been taken out of context, and affirmed on Twitter that “the primary responsibility for the fight against crime and violence in Arab society [lies with the] government and police,” adding that “The Arab public is normative and law abiding.”

However, he wrote, “there are cultural norms in the segments of the Arab public,” such as “blood feuds, murder within in the family, [and possession of] illegal weapons,” which need to be addressed.

Erdan is scheduled to meet with Joint List MKs on Thursday. The meeting was scheduled prior to the public security minister’s comments.

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