The Tel Aviv municipality's decision to promote affordable housing in Jaffa for Arab citizens stirred consternation only in right-wing circles. During a demonstration initiated by MK Michael Ben Ari (National Union ), right-wing activist Itamar Ben-Gvir and others, protesters chanted "Jewish Jaffa" and called the city's Arab residents "enemies."
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai and his associates were apparently not alarmed by this provocative protest, which called for Jaffa's residents - citizens of Israel - to be stripped of their right to equality and dignity. In view of the growing number of right-wing protests, as well as the proliferation of laws and proposed bills aimed at pressuring and ostracizing Arab citizens of Israel, it is important to emphasize the moral rectitude of the affordable housing initiative.
Illegitimate, dangerous behavior has been on the rise - for example, the law concerning admissions committees in small communities, the rabbis' letter calling on Jewish residents not to rent apartments to Arabs, and the declarations made by right extremists that Arab citizens of Israel are "taking over" residential areas and causing intermarriage. Such measures undermine the very fabric of life in mixed cities.
These developments are compounded by rising trends - for example, ultra-Orthodox nationalists establishing yeshivas in mixed cities and living in the surrounding areas; and non-profit groups building compounds for religious Jews in these cities specifically. Such trends are seen as threats by the Arab minority.
The High Court of Justice rejected a petition submitted jointly by Jaffa residents, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and Rabbis for Human Rights regarding the residential compound being built by the non-profit organization Bemuna, which deals in housing for the religious sector. Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch noted, however, that the petition raised a valid question about the legality of allocating land to a group with cultural characteristics - religious or otherwise.
At first glance, such a remark seems to militate against building only for Arabs in Jaffa, too; yet this particular project has no connection to cultural characteristics, but rather socioeconomic factors and the municipality's responsibility to its residents. Most of Jaffa's Arab residents struggle to afford their housing and their mobility is limited. Jews who organize themselves together in non-profit groups, or who purchase apartments in new housing projects, have a wider array of options for investing in real estate.
The Arab-designated affordable housing project therefore fulfills a clear civil duty, while delivering a message to Arab residents that the municipality is with them. This is a worthy endeavor, one which the municipality will hopefully continue to stand behind without being deterred.
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