Sheldon Kirshner

Racism Roils Afula

What if a landlord in Toronto, New York City or Paris refused to rent or sell a condo to a Jewish person?

Pundits and bloggers would vent their indignation. Politicians would denounce the racism. In short, the outrage would be heard around the globe, especially from Jews and their supporters.

Several days ago, the mayor and deputy mayor of the northern Israeli city of Afula, Avi Elkabetz and Shlomo Malihi, took part in a rally protesting the sale of a house to an Arab family. Among the protesters were members of Lehava — a radical right-wing organization that opposes intermarriages between Jews and Arabs — and representatives of Afula’s municipal council.

Itai Cohen, one of the city counsellors, told the media that their presence at the demonstration was an unmistakable sign that Afula intended to “preserve its Jewish character.” As he put it, “Anyone looking for a mixed city — Afula is not the address. We are a right-wing place with Jewish characteristics.”

What Cohen meant is that Afula, population 49,000, would not ever be like Jaffa, Haifa, Lod or Ramla, where Jewish, Muslim and Christian citizens of Israel live in close proximity.

It’s a position that Elkabetz supports unequivocally.

He was elected on a campaign promise to maintain Afula’s Jewish character, and in the past, he has joined demonstrations protesting the sale of homes in Afula to Israeli Arabs.

To the best of my knowledge, a deafening silence greeted the rally in Afula.

Not a single Israeli politician denounced it. Neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor President Reuven Rivlin had anything to say about the overt racism that reared its ugly head in Afula. Nor did the presidents of major Jewish organizations in the Diaspora speak out against the bigotry that Israeli Arabs often face in Israel’s housing market.

Judging by Israel’s Declaration of Independence, Israel is supposed to be a democratic country where the rights of minorities are protected. But all too often, Israel pays little more than lip service to this notion. Although a small number of Muslim and Christian Arabs have attained high positions in Israeli society, the vast majority of Israel Arabs face an impenetrable glass ceiling in terms of employment and fair access to housing in urban Jewish neighborhoods.

It’s a telling commentary on the state of Jewish-Arab relations in Israel today that the mayor and deputy mayor of Afula had the temerity to attend a rally endorsing discrimination against Muslim and Christian Israeli citizens, and that their participation in it did not even arouse a smidgen of indignation in the country.

Israel cannot be a true democracy unless there is zero tolerance for such blatant displays of racism.

About the Author
Sheldon Kirshner is a journalist in Toronto. He writes at his online journal,
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