Israeli Leadership Mustn't Keep Mum in Face of Racist Protest in Northern City

Leadership has a duty to fight isolation, alienation and hostility between the two parts of the Israeli population. Lack of response indicates encouragement for feelings of hatred toward Israeli Arabs.

Jewish residents in Afula protest granting of local housing tender to Israeli Arabs, December 6, 2015. Sign reads, "The mayor has betrayed us; he wants to build a mosque."
Gil Eliyahu

Some 200 of Afula’s 44,000 residents demonstrated angrily on Sunday after 48 Arab families won a tender to build homes in the city. There’s no way to know if these belligerent protesters reflect what all city residents feel or represent only themselves. But there is no dispute about one thing: The tender was proper, the results are legal and the winners have the full right to build.

That’s also the belief of the beleaguered Mayor Yitzhak Meron, whom the demonstrators called a traitor as they warned against “Arabs seizing control” over the entire State of Israel. “Today Young Afula and Afula Illit, tomorrow all of Afula and the next day the whole country,” the demonstrators shouted. “We won’t give up on Israel.”

It should be noted that Meron is not the correct target for the anger of the terrified residents. He is against turning Afula into a mixed city, preferring a “Jewish Afula.” But the law is on the tender-winners’ side, as Meron himself admitted. He stressed that if the tender turns out to have been faulty, he would agree to have it reexamined.

But it is precisely the emphasis on the tender’s validity that is racist. The mayor is using the tender and its procedures as a shield against a local uprising, rather than espousing a democratic worldview that accords every citizen the right to live wherever he chooses. The mayor should make it clear to the people of Afula that Arabs have the right to live in the city, whether or not they win a housing tender.

The residents’ claim that there’s no place for Arabs in Afula after the city has suffered so many terror attacks is demagoguery that’s designed to instill hatred. Arabs living in mixed cities like Acre, Ramle and Haifa did not launch the recent wave of knifing attacks. If one seeks to identify a single factor that could dissolve the enmity between the populations, it can be found in Jewish-Arab coexistence at the municipal level.

Disseminating this worldview is not the sole responsibility of mayors. It needs the support of the national leadership. They are the ones who have a duty to fight isolation, alienation and hostility between the two parts of the Israeli population.

The cries of the 200 Afula demonstrators ought to be swallowed up by an immediate, sharp and clear response from the leadership about the importance of the state’s wholeness. The lack of such a response indicates consent, and even encouragement, for fostering feelings of hatred and racism toward a fifth of Israel’s population.