Dozens of people protested in Afula on Saturday night against the sale of a home to an Arab family. Afula’s mayor, Avi Elkabetz, was among the protesters, as well as his deputy, Shlomo Malihi, and some members of the city council.
In response to Haaretz’s request for a comment on his participation, Elkabetz said the protest was private and unconnected to the municipality.
The municipality refused to comment as well, but council member Itai Cohen told Haaretz: "We don't have a problem cooperating with Arab businesses, but we won't have them live here. We stand by the residents in this protest ... Afula must remain a Jewish city."
The demonstration was announced on Friday via a Facebook page entitled “Otzma Yehudit Afula,” referring to the name of the far-right party led by followers of Rabbi Meir Kahane that took part in recent Israeli elections.
The invitation read: "Greetings to all residents of Afula. Our city is being sold. We must not lend a hand to this and we must not be silent. I ask everyone who can and to whom his country is important. I ask you to come on Saturday night. The demonstration is on 1 Hadasim Street (after the cultural center) at 8:30 P.M. In the picture, the new home of …. (danger of blocking). The seller is of course Jewish (doubtfully). Please come. Take part. Shabbat Shalom.”
During the demonstration, the Israeli national anthem Hatikva was sung and protesters shouted through a megaphone at a nearby building asking why people were not coming out to protest. The flag of the anti-assimilation group Lehava was seen and Israeli flags were later brought to the scene. According to D., who took part in the protest, the flags were brought by a senior municipality official.
Amnesty International asked Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit to suspend Elkabetz along with members of his list. "We were not surprised by Avi Elkabetz's participation at the demonstration with 'Afula Yehudit' and flags from (far-right group) Lehava outside a house sold to an Arab family. During his campaign, Elkabetz had made clear in his view there is no room for Arab residents in the 'pure Jewish city' of Afula, and that all those against it would suffer from persecution, threats and incitement."
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The call to disqualify Elkabetz was declined by Mendelblit, Amnesty said, adding that "If the inciter is Palestinian, he goes right to prison, whereas if he is a Jew, he can be mayor, a minister or even prime minister."
Mayor Elkabetz’s campaign featured a slogan calling for Afula to maintain its Jewish character. Before he was elected, he took part in other protests against the sale of homes in the city to Arabs. After the election, members of the city council were sworn in with an oath that they would protect the Jewish character of the city.
In addition, a number of events in the Afula city park were closed to non-residents of Afula after protests against the entry of families from surrounding communities, presumably Arab.
About six weeks ago relatives of a senior official in the Afula municipality sold a home to an Arab family in the city. Anger was expressed publicly against the sale, but no demonstrations were held.