Monday, November 8, 2010

Israel: The Cabinet Must End Its Silence Over Racist Attacks

The Israeli cabinet, led by the prime minister and the education minister, have been silent in the face of a series of racist incidents in Safed.

 This editorial was published in Haaretz on 8/11/2010

Carmiel Mayor Adi Eldar announced late last week that he was firing deputy mayor Oren Milstein, who allegedly made numerous deprecatory comments about the Arab residents of the northern town. Eldar did the right thing.

On the day of the announcement, Safed Mayor Ilan Shohat was quoted telling Haaretz in an interview that Safed is "a symbol of coexistence between Jews and Arabs." 

Shohat's empty boasts followed a series of racist incidents in his city. The 500 Arab students enrolled at Safed Academic College were the target of an ugly public attack culminating in violence against three of them.

Last month Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu issued a religious ruling prohibiting Jews from renting homes to Arabs in the center.

An emergency convention of 18 area rabbis and about 400 supporters issued a call voicing a similar sentiment. Milstein supported the convention. Eli Tzvieli, an 89-year-old Safed resident, received death threats after renting an apartment to Bedouin students.

But Shohat has chosen to put a pretty face on an ugly situation. Unlike his Carmiel colleague, he did not sack his deputy who supported the rabbis' convention, and the city's rabbi kept his post, too.

The cabinet, led by the prime minister and the education minister, have been silent in the face of these disgraceful events in Safed. So too is the national student union, which did not come out in defense of its besieged colleagues in the city.

The law enforcement establishment has not as yet taken any action against the city's chief rabbi, who was charged about four and a half years ago for making racist remarks.

The charges were dropped after Eliyahu promised to retract his statements. Now he is back to his old ways, and nothing is being done about it.

This silence is even more worrisome than the events themselves. The prime minister, his ministers, Safed's mayor and the law enforcement establishment are sending the message that all is well in the northern city.

Just as the withdrawal of the indictment against Eliyahu is now proving to have been a serious error, so will this deafening silence of those who look on from the side echo loudly, and the wave of racism will only expand and gain force as a result. Responsibility will fall not only on those who lead it, but also on all those who stand silently by without taking any action.

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