An Israeli court ordered on Sunday to suspend a lottery for affordable housing in Jaffa only for Arabs after residents petitioned to nix the program, claiming it is an "extreme and improper discrimination."
Tel Aviv District Court Judge Kobi Vardi suspended the lottery until any further ruling, and asked the state to present its position on the matter. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for May 30.
The Housing Ministry is selling 10 apartments in a former soccer stadium complex to Arabs only as part of the program. The conditions of the tender state that the housing units will be allocated to people defined as Arab Israelis "of the Muslim or Christian religion" who reside in Jaffa for at least three years.
The petitioners, residents of Tel Aviv, argue that the Housing Ministry does not have the authority to differentiate between Israeli citizens on the basis of race, and that the allocation of apartments only to Arab residents of Jaffa is illegal.
Jaffa, a major Arab city for centuries, was merged with Tel Aviv after the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. Like some other parts of the city, gentrification has heavily affected Jaffa in recent years.
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The plaintiffs claim the distinction between Jews and Arabs in this regard is "racial discrimination" and "anti-liberal". "The data shows that members of the Arab community in Tel Aviv (with an emphasis on Jaffa) are in continuous demographic growth. It is actually the Jews who are in a plummeting trend."
In January, the Deputy Attorney General for Civil Affairs Carmit Yulis said that subsidizing housing units for Arabs in Tel Aviv could harm the principal of equality. She was referring to a different project sponsored by Tel Aviv municipality to sell 28 Jaffa apartments only to local Arab. "This could very well raise a constitutional problem concerning aspects of equality," said Yulis at the time.
In a lecture she gave at Bar-Ilan University, Yulis said she was "not at all sure that the court would deny the petition" that was filed against the project, and which the court denied for technical reasons of having been filed too late.