Editorial |

An Israeli City's Record of Discriminating Against Arabs

Haaretz Editorial
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A driving school car in Afula, northern Israel, on Saturday.
A driving school car in Afula, northern Israel, on Saturday.Credit: Gil Eliyahu
Haaretz Editorial

The Afula city council attempted to reach a new nadir of racism this week, with its proposal to bar driving schools from operating in the city on Shabbat and holidays, except in the industrial zone. Make no mistake, this isn’t a city that has suddenly gotten fed up with having student drivers on the roads. What bothered members of Afula’s city council wasn’t the cars, but the people using them on Shabbat – that is, residents of the nearby Arab towns of Nein, Mukeibla, Shibli, Umm al-Ghanam and Na’ura, who are learning how to drive in preparation for taking the city’s driving tests. This despicable proposal is aimed at preventing Arab students and driving teachers from entering Afula.

They don’t even hide it. City council members may be racists, but they aren’t hypocrites. “Anyone who enters this city needs to know that it’s a Jewish city,” city councilman Itai Cohen, who submitted the proposal, said without a drop of shame. The Afula city council has a long record of racist acts. Horrifyingly, its members even boast about them. “It’s just like in 2015, when we fought for our truth against the sale of lands to Arabs,” said Cohen, who led that protest. Then there was the attempt in 2019 to close a municipal park to anyone who wasn’t an Afula resident, with the goal of barring Arab visitors. And don’t forget the oaths city council members swore that same year to keep Afula Jewish.

Mayor Avi Elkabetz once led the battle to keep the municipal park free of Arabs. He also promised during his election campaign to preserve Afula’s Jewish character and even warned against “the occupation of the park.” Efforts to exclude Arabs from the city have been consistent, and the battle over driving schools shouldn’t be seen as anything but another front in the war to preserve Afula’s Jewish purity.

Both the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Adalah – the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel sent letters to Elkabetz asking him to remove this proposal from the agenda, on the grounds that the city has no legal authority at all to post signs preventing the entry of student drivers into the city on Shabbat and holidays, much less when the decision is driven by unacceptable motives. The discriminatory proposal infringes on freedom of movement, freedom of occupation and Arab teachers’ right to work on Shabbat.

Afula is not the first to come up with such a proposal. In 2003, the town of Carmiel tried the same racist maneuver, but the court made it clear that it wouldn’t be allowed to stand. Yesterday the city council decided unanimously to appoint a committee to map out the streets that they would like to close off and ascertain whether the process is legal. It is to be hoped that the committee makes clear to the city that the proposal is racist and must be shelved.

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