Editorial |

This Tel Aviv Suburb Is a Test Case for Radicalization

Haaretz Editorial
Bat Yam during the May 2021 riots.
Bat Yam during the May 2021 riots. Credit: Tomer Applebaum
Haaretz Editorial

The renewed outbreak of violent clashes in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood; the calls on social media for right-wing activists to come defend the neighborhood’s Jewish residents and the equivalent calls in Arabic; the dangerous provocation by MK Itamar Ben-Gvir and the threats by Hamas – all this recalls the events that preceded the Hamas-Israel fighting last May. And all this is happening just weeks before Ramadan, which starts on April 3.

Given that the air is full of gasoline fumes, the investigative report by Ran Shimoni that was published in Haaretz's Hebrew edition on Tuesday requires everyone to wake up.

The report found that Bat Yam is undergoing a process of nationalist radicalization that neither began nor ended with the horrific assault on an Arab man that was perpetrated there in May. Activists in far-right organizations like Otzma Yehudit, Lehava and former members of the outlawed Kach party are inciting against Arabs and preaching against “assimilation.”

One well-known activist, Shlomi Kanazi, is a municipal employee who openly identifies as a Kahanist and was filmed participating in the assault. He even announced recently that he has opened a synagogue named after Kach founder Meir Kahane, which, like other synagogues in the city, serves as a venue for Torah classes laced with incitement given by Lehava founder Bentzi Gopstein, former Otzma Yehudit's MK Michael Ben Ari and other agents of hate.

Economic trends have led to a rise in the number of Arab Israelis moving from Jaffa to Bat Yam. Most of them settle in the Amidar neighborhood, where religious Jews make up most of the population. Even though just 900 of the city’s 128,000 residents are Arabs, some Jews are terming this a “takeover.”

Residents of the Amidar neighborhood urged people not to sell apartments to Arabs and asked the municipality to settle the matter. In June there was even a conference at which participants, including the city’s chief rabbi, Eliyahu Bar Shalom, discussed issues such as “Arab purchases of apartments in the Amidar neighborhood” and “the issue of Jewish girls with Arabs.”

Educators in the city are worried about the violent messages they hear from Jewish teenagers, which have only gotten worse since last May’s fighting. These young people feel that their Arab neighbors from Jaffa have suddenly turned on them, one educator said, “and there are people who are fanning this and telling them they have to ‘defend their home.’”

Lehava is hitching a ride on the tensions in the city. The radical right has entered the vacuum the state has left and is inciting fear, suspicion, separatism and violence.

Dealing with these worrying trends should not be left solely to the local leadership. Several steps have to be taken simultaneously – a total mobilization of the education system, the removal of the Kahanists from friction points and an increased police presence. Above all, Arab and Jewish leaders in both local and national governments must join hands and make it clear that Jews and Arabs have to learn to live together.

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

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