I don’t mean to justify what Yonah Yahav, the mayor of Haifa, said about moving the home for troubled kids from their previous residence, in one of the poor areas of Haifa, to a new house, in one of the most desirable neighborhoods, Merkaz Hacarmel.
It is inexcusable and inhuman. However,Yahav is hardly the problem, and although we should condemn his bigotry and his hateful public expressions, he is only the symptom, and it is hypocritical to blame him for all the ills of our society.
Next to my parents home in one of the quiet neighborhoods on the Carmel Mountain, very close to that Merkaz Hacarmel (center of the Carmel Mountain), that Yonah Yahav so bravely protected, there was a care center for autistic kids. We frequently saw them taking group walks, and every so often we heard very loud screams. One day, when I visited my parents, one of the neighbors knocked on the door, she was there to collect signatures to have the center removed.
It wasn’t the first time, and again my mother told her neighbor that the children deserved to have a good place, and that it was the right and human thing to do, to welcome them as neighbors. She added that it was much harder on the kids themselves and their families.
I was very proud of my mother, but it transpired that she was the only one to welcome the kids as neighbors.
Yonah Yahav is not different from the neighbors at Hatishbi street on the Carmel Mountain. However, he is not just a neighbor, he is the mayor, who was caught on tape saying that he didn’t want children with special needs in “his town” Haifa, especially not in the Merkaz Hacarmel. But he also said something else: he was afraid of residents’ protest.
He was not wrong, while many people outwardly denounce Yahav for his callousness, they practice what he preaches every day of the year. Only last December I heard on the radio that in certain neighborhoods around the country (for example in Kiryat Malachi) there is a silent agreement to keep Ethiopian Jews away and not let them buy or rent apartments.
It seems that in Israel today, discrimination, in many ugly forms, has become a way of life. The real problem is that we do not want to see, and be around, those who are different and prefer that they remain invisible, tucked away, perhaps next to the refuse, which we haul all the way to the south to dump in Ramat Hovav.
It is a shame that Yona Lahav is neither a leader nor a Mensch, but a frightened politician, who is manipulated by his affluent voters. It is even sadder that we cannot expect a mayor to promote change or even be part of a campaign to end intolerance and discrimination.
But it is time that we, as a society, own this problem and accept the “Other.” Perhaps the other is not “Me” today, but at one point of time he/she may very well be. We should move those who are different or disadvantaged with us to the front yard of our society, and it all starts with education.