Arab students at Safed Academic College have formed their own faction which will run for the chairmanship of the student union and seats on its council. The move comes just over a year after a wave of anti-Arab racism erupted in Safed, culminating in attacks on Arab students and a call by some local rabbis not to rent apartments in town to Arabs.
Gabriel Mansour, who heads the Arab faction, said his group, "For Your Sake," was not provided with voters' rolls, but a number of students have said it is clear that more than half of the 2,400 students at the college in the north are Arab and that the electoral prospects of "For Your Sake" are considerable. On the other hand, about half of the candidates from "Tachlis" ("To the Point" ), which is another faction in the student union elections, are also Arab.
Mansour said he and his colleagues had unsuccessfully tried to recruit Jewish students to join his ticket. "Unfortunately, they refused, claiming that they were afraid their cars would be torched or something similar would happen." He said the elections only deal with issues involving student affairs and what he called "a desire to create an academic atmosphere that will help the students."
He acknowledged that the campaign was being conducted in an atmosphere of fairness, but claimed many people still fear the election of an Arab chairman of the student union. "It's not being said openly, but it's a statement that exists. There are also those who say we are trying to incite."
Although memories of the anti-Arab incidents of a year ago have receded, Arab students still contend they are anxious about the situation. The legal adviser to Mossawa Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel, Nidal Othman, said his group was even considering providing security services to Arab students in Safed. Ala Abu Bakr, a third year Arab student at the college and a member of the Arab faction said: "The foul atmosphere in Safed against Arab students was absolutely one of the main reasons the faction was formed."
"On a micro level the goal is to try to help Arab students on issues related to their studies and also to deal with those who are trying to inflame the atmosphere and discriminate against the Arab students. And on a macro level, it's a message to the police and city hall," Abu Bakr said, adding that the police and city officials did not address the hateful atmosphere in the town over the past year.
Osama Ghanaim of the Arab town of Sakhnin, who is a third year student at the college running on the Jewish-Arab "Tachlis" ticket, was critical of the Arab-only faction. "It's an absolutely unnecessary step that will only lead to extremism. I've studied here for three years and I have never encountered any racism within the college. The atmosphere in the town doesn't pertain to us, and I personally live in a rented apartment in the heart of the Old City [of Safed] and have not encountered any hostility."
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