Among the torch-lighters at the Independence Day ceremony were a few who expressed in their speeches the desire for a life of cooperation and coexistence with Israel’s Arab citizens. Not among them, unfortunately, was Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who two years ago wrote on his Facebook page, “the Arab nation is a deplorable nation.” The head of the country’s elected representatives is not exceptional in holding this view. His followers are growing as they continually and insistently weave the dismal and distorted fabric of relations with the Arab minority.
The dark shadow of racism once again revealed itself the day before Independence Day when Upper Nazareth Mayor Shimon Gapso, shared with his city’s Jewish inhabitants his “unprecedented achievement,” to wit: “No more averting our eyes, no more embracing the law that allows every citizen to live wherever he pleases. This is the time to protect our homes! And indeed, by standing fast in the breach, by [waging] a daily battle, by clear statements and by actions about which silence should be maintained, by courage and persistence, we have done the unbelievable: We halted the demographic retreat and kept the Jewish proportion of the population at 82 percent.”
Gapso wrote the remarks in a “manifesto to the citizen” entitled “Upper Nazareth: A Jewish Identity Forever.” Gapso is not alone. Earlier this month Baruch Michaeli, the deputy mayor of Ma’alot-Tarshiha − a joint municipality consisting of the Jewish town of Ma’alot and the Arab town of Tarshiha − demanded in a letter to the housing minister that Tarshiha’s Arab residents be barred from bidding in tenders for housing lots.
“Beyond the fact that the character of the neighborhood will be hurt, the very eligibility of Tarshiha residents to bid gives them preference over the residents of Ma’alot,” Michaeli wrote. In other cities, such as Safed and Carmiel (where in the past informers were used to report on people who sold apartments to Arabs), pressure was brought to bear on the neighborhood and the individual level to prevent Arabs from moving in.
Although this racist incitement is protected by “freedom of expression” − the reason the Justice Ministry rejected a complaint against Gapso − the attorney general must order an investigation to clarify the nature of those “actions about which silence should be maintained” of which Gapso is so proud.
On the public level one must question the silence of other Israeli mayors. Shlomo Buhbut, head of the Union of Local Authorities in Israel and the mayor of Ma’alot Tarshiha, was shocked by the racist remarks of Beitar Jerusalem fans, but not by those of his deputy. It is not harsher laws that will uproot racism, but rather public denunciation and the personal example of the leadership.
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