Editorial

What Netanyahu Sowed, This Northern Israeli City Reaps

Afula residents protest the selling of homes to Arabs, June 21, 2018.
Gil Eliahu

Slogans regarding the need to “preserve the Jewish character” of a place were once again heard in Afula, during a demonstration on Saturday night held in front of a home that was sold to an Arab family.

These slogans cannot hide the racist division between “our people” and “the others,” between the superior and inferior, between the holy and the unclean, that accompanies a person here from womb to tomb. The way the city fathers embraced the demonstration is indicative of the deepening cooperation between government representatives and avowed promoters of racism like the Lehava organization, whose flag was seen at the protest alongside the Israeli flag.

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There were several dozen people at the demonstration, including Mayor Eli Elkabetz, Deputy Mayor Shlomo Malihi and members of the city council. The Facebook page Otzma Yehudit Afula – devoted to promoting Otzma Yehudit, the Kahanist faction that contended in the April general election as part of the Union of Right-Wing Parties – called on people to attend the protest.

“Our city is being sold,” the page said. “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 to come Saturday night.” In one of the responses, a party activist made the intention clear. “If you don’t wake up, Afula will fall like Upper Nazareth and your daughters will become slaves to the enemy.” As in other times in history, the dissemination of hate focuses on the “violation” of women by “the other.” Itai Cohen, one of the city council members who demonstrated, said the municipality would continue “to make sure the city preserves its Jewish character.”

In Afula’s case, preserving some imaginary purity has turned out to be worthwhile. Like many more veteran politicians than he, Elkabetz has learned to use racist dog whistles to benefit his political career. During the last local election campaign, Elkabetz promised to “preserve the Jewish character of Afula,” participated in demonstrations against selling local homes to Arabs, and on his Facebook page claimed that “the conquest of the city park,” i.e., visits to the park by Arabs from nearby communities, “must stop.”

After his victory, the municipal park was in fact opened several times solely to Afula residents. City council members, as they were sworn in, promised to “preserve the city’s Jewish character.” Last month Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit ruled that this addition to the swearing-in ceremony had no legal standing.

Afula is a racist mirror of broad sections of Israeli society, the legacy of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent years in office. The spirit of the nation-state law – the Netanyahu government’s crowning glory – wafts over the Afula demonstration and gives legitimacy to discriminatory, ugly behavior toward Arab citizens. Israel urgently needs local and national leadership that will facilitate ways for Jews and Arabs to live together.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.