Israeli City Votes Against Absorbing Arab Village, Aiming to ‘Preserve City’s Character’

The mayor of the northern town of Afula has also pushed through a city council vote that would keep out of a park Arabs from nearby villages

Israelis demonstrate against the sale of a house to an Arab family in Afula, 2018.
Eran Gilwarag

The Afula City Council voted down a proposal for the northern town to absorb the neighboring Arab village of Dahi, saying it wanted to “preserve the city’s character.”

The vote followed a pledge by a previous mayor, Yitzhak Meron, to favorably view the integration of the village. The Interior Ministry is expected to discuss the issue on May 21.

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The city is also denying entry to its park to people not residents of the city. Mayor Avi Elkabetz had warned in his election campaign last year against the “conquering of the park,” a place where Arabs from surrounding communities often visit.

In recent weeks, people on social media have said relatives of a senior city official in Elkabetz’s party sold his home to an Arab family. Local political sources said the mayor has thus been keen to show that he is keeping his promises from the campaign, where he said he would maintain the city’s “Jewish character.”

Israelis demonstrate against the sale of a house to an Arab family in Afula, 2018.
Eran Gilwarag

In a Hebrew-language Facebook post late last month, Elkabetz wrote that “this evening we will convene the Afula City Council for one of its most critical meetings ever in which we will vote against the letter by former Mayor Yitzhak Meron, who agreed to add the village of Dahi to Afula.”

As Elkabetz put it, “We must all safeguard Afula,” adding that “we respect Dahi, and the council will continue to share commercial and cultural life with it.”

The council meeting was stormy. Opposition members said only members of the local governing coalition backed the motion against incorporating the village; opposition members left the room during the voting. They accused the mayor of rejecting their broader proposal against annexing any communities to Afula.

The city’s park wrote on Facebook that only residents would be allowed in. Local people said the park had been shut on Saturdays to nonresidents ever since Elkabetz’s election last year, following complaints about Arab citizens visiting the site.

According to a source at the council, Elkabetz had promised in his campaign to shut the park to “minority members,” and he has been trying to protect his image ever since, having been unable to carry out his pledge.

For its part, the Afula municipality said that the unanimous vote canceling plans to make Dahi a part of the city was supposed to be held in March, but deliberations were postponed by the Interior Ministry.

Regarding the park’s closure to nonresidents, the city said this had nothing to do with Jews and Arabs; instead it was done “to expose Afula residents to activities at the city’s park.”