Bat Yam protest against Arabs Daniel Bar On
Protesters in Bat Yam demonstrating against leasing to Arabs, Dec. 20, 2010. Photo by Daniel Bar On
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Protests in Bat Yam against the renting of apartments to Arabs are picking up, with some 200 local residents and right-wing activists protesting last night under the banner "Keeping Bat Yam Jewish."

MK Michael Ben Ari (National Union ) also took part in the protest. "I am very encouraged when I see such public awakening, a healthy one, coming out onto the streets of Bat Yam," he told the demonstrators, who were protesting that Arabs were moving to the city and what they alleged were relationships between Arab men and Jewish women. The protesters gathered near the Bat Yam mall, with the police permission, and chanted racist slogans including "Arabs out" and "No homes rented to Arabs." They also carried banners on which they wrote "Jews, let's win - girls of Israel for the nation of Israel."

Many of the demonstrators were young and religious, and dozens of children also attended the rally. The Rabbi of Bat Yam was one of the rabbis who signed a letter two weeks ago calling for a ban on renting apartments to Arabs.

City residents said that there is a noticeable move to the city by Arabs, mainly to the Shikun Amidar neighborhood which borders Jaffa.

One of the speakers, Moshe Ben-Zikri, told the protesters about the fight by residents of Pisgat Ze'ev, a Jerusalem neighborhood, against Jewish-Arab couples. Ben-Zikri called on the residents of Bat Yam to fight against the phenomenon. "We must not be afraid - not of the police, not of the media, not of anyone."

"Where is our sanity?" asked Rabbi Nissim Itah, the rabbi of a Bat Yam school. "Girls, there are plenty of Jewish youth. I am asking our Arab neighbor not to hit on our girls," the rabbi said.

Rabbi Shlomo Ariel Malka, the rabbi of a synagogue in the city, said that "a woman who goes to an Arab home is hated by them. God will bless us when he opens our sisters' eyes."

Michael, a city resident, said that the issue is disturbing him on a national level. "I am concerned for the state to preserve its character and that naive girls should not go to Arabs," he said. "On a personal level, it does not bother me, it's a matter of education. But people in the broader community can fall victim."

"Every one needs to live in his area," said fellow Bat Yam resident Benny Volkan. "Now it's in Amidar but you can never know how it will spread. Tomorrow it could be in our Haredi neighborhood."

A counter-protest by the left, mostly members of Hadash and the Noar Haoved movement, was held several hundred meters away. They held aloft banners saying "Racism equals violence," and "I love Arabs, ask me how."

One sign read: "If an Arab hits on my sister I will ask him if he has a brother for me."

Bat Yam mayor Shlomi Lahiani told Haaretz that "I am opposed to all the racist statements but they are not the issue. The issue is that there is a multicultural society and Bat Yam has said very clearly that we do not want racism here, these shameful statements."

A protest in the Tikva neighborhood in southern Tel Aviv is expected to take place this evening, calling for outsiders to be evicted. Residents of southern city neighborhoods held three meetings on how to deal with the presence of foreign refugees in the neighborhood. Rabbis have called for a ban on renting apartments to foreigners and the municipality is also trying to evict refugees from the area.