Opposition was growing last night to a plan by Ariel Sharon's government to
build public-sector housing within Israel exclusively for Jews.
Left-wing and Arab MPs denounced as "racist" Sunday's cabinet decision to back
a private member's bill barring Arabs from buying homes in "Jewish" townships,
built on state-owned land. Israel has about 1 million Arabs, nearly 20 per cent
of the population.
Shulamit Aloni, a veteran civil rights campaigner and former minister, said:
"If we are not an apartheid state, we are getting much, much closer to it." Yossi
Sarid, who succeeded her as leader of the Meretz party, added: "The Israeli Arabs
are not guests here. They are citizens with equal rights."
Azmi Bishara, of the Arab Balad party, said: "Racism has become an official
ideology of the state of Israel."
Elyakim Rubinstein, the Attorney General, urged ministers yesterday to think
again. Mr Rubinstein, a civil servant whose job is to advise the government on
legal matters, warned them that the bill was likely to deepen the rift between
Jewish and Arab citizens.
The bill will be presented to parliament after the long summer break. It is
unlikely to pass into law, if at all, until next year. Even then, it could still
be subject to a long appeal process in the Supreme Court.
Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, the Defense Minister, announced that Labour ministers
and MPs would oppose the bill when it was debated. Mr Ben-Eliezer, the party leader,
did not explain why his ministers refrained from fighting the measure at Sunday's
The plan was supported by 17 right-wing and religious party ministers. Ephraim
Sneh, the Transport Minister, was the only Labour representative who openly opposed
it. Other ministers either left the chamber or muttered their reservations.
These passive dissenters included at least two from the right of the spectrum
the Justice Minister, Meir Sheetrit, of the Likud and one of his predecessors,
Dan Meridor, who condemned the proposal as "flagrantly discriminatory."
The bill, promoted by Rabbi Haim Druckman, a National Religious Party MP, is
designed to reverse a landmark Supreme Court ruling of March 2000. That judgment
said it was unconstitutional to prevent one Israeli Arab, Adel Ka'adan, from moving
his family into the new community of Katzir in the predominantly Arab Wadi Ara
valley north-east of Tel Aviv. The community of Katzir was itself an act of demographic
engineering, an attempt to change the Arab-Jewish balance in the area.
Mr Ka'adan is a nurse in the emergency ward of a hospital in the town of Hadera,
where he has often treated victims of Palestinian suicide bombings.
He said yesterday: "Peace-loving people, both Arabs and Jews, are struggling
to bring people closer together. In one moment the government has taken a decision
that kills these budding flowers of peace. "At the hospital, we work together,
and the government tries to cut off all this."
Rabbi Druckman, a veteran ideologue of Jewish settlement in the occupied West
Bank and Gaza Strip, was unrepentant. He hailed Sunday's vote as "one of the government's
finest hours under Sharon's leadership," an act that "brought back the color to
the cheeks of Zionism".
Limor Livnat, the Likud Education Minister and the bill's cabinet sponsor,
contended that it stemmed not from discrimination but from "the main basis of
Zionism the return of the Jewish people to its land".
The bill's critics are disturbed not only by the principle at stake, but also
by the timing.
Israel is struggling to convince a skeptical world it is not a racist state,
that in the conflict with the Palestinians it has right on its side. The bill's
opponents fear that this measure will give Israel's enemies fresh ammunition in
the public relations war.
© 2002 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd