U.S. Jewish Donor to Upper Nazareth Threatens to Cut Funding After Mayor Opposes Arab School

Don Green says the Israeli town should heed local demands and build a school for Arab children.

Eli Ashkenazi
Eli Ashkenazi
Eli Ashkenazi
Eli Ashkenazi

An American Jewish philanthropist who is one of Upper Nazareth's biggest donors is threatening to stop giving money to the city unless an Arab school opens there.

The philanthropist, Don Green, made his announcement after Mayor Shimon Gapso said two weeks ago he opposes the establishment of an Arab school in the city. Green is the son of the late Irwin Green, another big donor to the largely Jewish town.

Over the years, the Greens' largesse has enabled the construction of a community center and soccer stadium in Upper Nazareth. Irwin Green, who once received a key to the city, has also donated to the neighboring city of Nazareth, helping establish an early childhood development center and other welfare operations in the largely Arab town. He died three years ago at 99.

Gapso has sent Don Green a letter in response to the American's demands. “The wish to establish an Arab school in Upper Nazareth, when many Arab schools are a five-minute ride away, does not express the desire for education but rather ownership of the land," Gapso wrote. "It is meant to radicalize nationalist sentiments and play to the media. The goal is simply to undermine the city's sensitive status quo."

In his letter, Gapso mentioned Lod's Ramat Eshkol neighborhood. Gapso said its Jewish residents had abandoned a “nice, quiet neighborhood” that “turned into a crime-riddled, neglected, unpleasant place that is unsafe for the Jews who fled it. Currently hardly any Jews are left in the neighborhood, and those who remain are desperate to leave but lack the means to do so.

"The same process started a few years ago in Upper Nazareth at the behest of the former mayor, who invited Arabs to live there. This caused many Jewish families to leave because for every person looking to buy real estate there is someone who will sell.”

In a separate letter to parents in the city, Gapso wrote that “Upper Nazareth was founded to Judaize the Galilee. That was its purpose and it remains so today. It is our mission every day. The city's residents and I as their mayor stand behind the idea that Upper Nazareth must continue to fulfill this function, and we are the overwhelming majority in town.”

Currently around 1,900 Arab students live in the city. About 15 percent attend schools in Upper Nazareth while the rest leave the city to attend schools in Nazareth and neighboring Arab towns.

Shukri Awaouda, a member of Upper Nazareth’s city council, said he welcomes the Green family’s decision. “Gapso’s statements are racist, and I hope Green’s response will help establish a school for Arab children in the city," Awaouda said. "It would pain me if the city suffered because of Gapso’s racism, and I hope the Green family resumes its philanthropic activities here.”

Upper Nazareth Mayor Shimon GapsoCredit: Ilan Assayag

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