Israeli court halts park entry ban deemed racist by Arab citizens

A security guard checks the identification of visitors near the entrance to a park in the northern Israeli town of Afula, July 14, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 14 July 2019

Israeli court halts park entry ban deemed racist by Arab citizens

  • Northern town of Afula had closed parks to non-residents
  • Arab neighbors of mainly Jewish town called ban racist

AFULA: A court on Sunday ordered a predominantly Jewish town in northern Israel to lift a ban on non-resident visitors to its parks, a prohibition that a rights group said was aimed at keeping Arabs out.
The town of Afula denied the edict was racially motivated.
In instructing the town to lift the order, Judge Danny Sarfati stopped short of accusing it of racism and cited a legal opinion by Israel’s attorney general, who said municipal parks were public property open to all.
Afula imposed the prohibition a month ago, effectively cutting off access to the 10-hectare (25-acre) park by residents of nearby Arab villages who frequented the popular site.
“This was really to exclude Palestinian citizens from entering the park,” said Fady Khoury, a lawyer with Adalah, an Arab rights group that raised the challenge in Nazareth district court.
Lawyers for Afula, a city of 50,000 people, contended the restrictions stemmed solely from a desire to reduce overcrowding during the summer months and keep maintenance costs down.
“We don’t argue with the law,” Avi Goldhammer, a lawyer for the city, said after the court ruling. “If the law permits everyone to come inside this park, OK.”
Israel’s Arab citizens make up 21% of the population and often identify as Palestinian. They were angered last year by the passage of a “nation-state” law declaring that only Jews have the right to self-determination in Israel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who supported the bill, said the legislation did not detract from the equal individual rights enjoyed by all of Israel’s citizens.
On Saturday, guards inspected identification cards at several entrances to Afula Municipal Park, where families strolled past playgrounds and petting zoos and joggers ran along trails lined with Israeli flags.
In the nearby Arab village of Sulem, Shua’a Zoabi said he often brought his children to the park in Afula.
“There is no space for our kids to play in our village. Public investment here is terribly low,” Zoabi said.
The ban, he said, was a “racist restriction” against Arabs, many of whom contend that their communities face discrimination in areas such as health, education and housing.
Israel’s Arab minority are mainly the descendents of the Palestinians who remained in their communities or were internally displaced during the 1948 war that surrounded Israel’s creation.


Israel votes on Benjamin Netanyahu’s political survival

Updated 7 min 37 sec ago

Israel votes on Benjamin Netanyahu’s political survival

  • At one Jerusalem polling station, a trickle of voters arrived just after it opened
  • ‘I think Bibi needs to go’

JERUSALEM: Israel began voting in its second election in five months Tuesday that will decide whether to extend Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s term as the country’s longest-serving prime minister despite corruption allegations against him.
Polls opened at 7:00 am (0400 GMT) and were due to close in most areas at 10:00 pm.
At one Jerusalem polling station, a trickle of voters arrived just after it opened.
“I think Bibi needs to go,” said Gruny Tzivin, a 37-year-old teacher, using Netanyahu’s nickname.
“After so many years it is time for a change and I think it fits with what I believe in for this country.”
The stakes could not be much higher for the 69-year-old right-wing leader who, as in April polls, faces a strong challenge from ex-military chief Benny Gantz and his centrist Blue and White alliance.
Ex-defense minister Avigdor Lieberman, Netanyahu’s former right-hand man turned rival, could play a kingmaker role with his campaign to “make Israel normal again.”
Some 6.4 million people are eligible to vote.
The first exit surveys will be released just after polls close, while official results are not expected until Wednesday.
Opinion polls have indicated another tight race, showing Netanyahu’s Likud and Blue and White winning around 32 seats each in the 120-seat parliament.
Both Netanyahu and Gantz paid a last-minute visit Monday night to Jerusalem’s Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews are allowed to pray.
Netanyahu enters the election after having suffered one of the biggest defeats of his political career following the April vote.
His Likud along with its right-wing and religious allies won a majority, leading Israeli President Reuven Rivlin to task the premier with forming a new government.
But following weeks of discussions, Netanyahu failed, leading him to opt for an unprecedented second election rather than risk having Rivlin choose someone else.
The danger for Netanyahu extends beyond remaining prime minister, a post he has held for a total of more than 13 years.
If he wins, many believe he will seek to have parliament grant him immunity from prosecution while facing the possibility of a corruption indictment in the weeks ahead.
Recognizing the stakes, Netanyahu spent the final days of the campaign seeking to appeal to right-wing nationalists — key to his re-election bid — and to boost turnout among his base.
Those efforts have included a controversial pledge to annex the Jordan Valley, which makes up a third of the occupied West Bank.
He has issued unfounded warnings that the vote could be stolen by fraud in Arab communities, leading critics to accuse him of racism.
But Netanyahu has also highlighted the country’s growing economy and his relationships with world leaders such as US President Donald Trump.
He has tried to label his main opponents “weak” and “leftist” despite their security credentials.
“This is the choice that is open to you: their left-wing government or a strong right-wing government led by me,” he said on Monday.
Gantz has campaigned by presenting himself as an honorable alternative.
He has repeatedly spoken of Netanyahu’s willingness to form a coalition with far-right parties that could help him secure immunity.
Gantz says his alliance, which includes three former armed forces chiefs of staff, wants a unity government that the vast majority of Israelis would support.
“Netanyahu continues to spread rude lies in a desperate attempt to save his government,” Gantz said Monday. “He lies, scolds, skewers, divides.”
Opinion polls show the campaign by Lieberman’s nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party has resonated with voters.
His “make Israel normal again” slogan refers to what the staunch secularist says is the undue influence of ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties on the country’s politics.
He accuses them of seeking to impose Jewish religious law on Israel’s secular population and wants legislation ending the exemption of the ultra-Orthodox from mandatory military service.
Lieberman prevented Netanyahu from forming a coalition after April polls by refusing to relent on his demand that the ultra-Orthodox be required to serve in the military like all other Israelis.
It is not clear he will endorse Netanyahu as prime minister again, which could be enough for Rivlin to allow Gantz to try to form a government.
Israel’s newly reunified Arab parties could also prove decisive with a performance similar to 2015 elections, when they became the third-largest force in parliament.
If so, they could block Netanyahu from continuing as prime minister by recommending Gantz.