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.


Former top general Benny Gantz gets a shot at forming Israeli government

Updated 37 min 15 sec ago

Former top general Benny Gantz gets a shot at forming Israeli government

  • President Reuven Rivlin is to formally grant the mandate later Wednesday to Gantz, who will have 28 days to form a coalition
  • It will mark the first time in over a decade that anyone besides Netanyahu has been given the task

JERUSALEM: Israel’s former military chief Benny Gantz is set to receive an official mandate to form the country’s next government but has few options after last month’s elections left him in a near tie with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu was given the first opportunity to form a government after assembling a large right-wing bloc but announced this week that he failed to build a 61-seat majority. Gantz faces similarly steep odds, raising the possibility that Israel will hold a third election in less than a year.
President Reuven Rivlin is to formally grant the mandate later Wednesday to Gantz, who will have 28 days to form a coalition. It will mark the first time in over a decade that anyone besides Netanyahu has been given the task.
Still, Gantz faces steep odds in every possible path to forming a government. He has been endorsed by just 54 lawmakers representing an array of parties that are unlikely to sit together in a coalition.
Both Gantz and Netanyahu say they favor a national unity government. Together, Netanyahu’s Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White control a solid 65-seat majority. But the two men are divided over who should lead any new government.
Netanyahu has insisted he head the government, at least for the first two years, and that it include his right-wing allies, conditions that Gantz has repeatedly rejected.
Netanyahu is likely to be indicted on corruption charges in the coming weeks, and Gantz has said Netanyahu should resolve his legal troubles before returning to the top post.
Gantz could potentially break up the right-wing alliance and recruit some of the smaller parties to his coalition. But that might be seen as a major betrayal by those parties’ voters.
Another option would be to form a minority government with Avigdor Lieberman, who emerged as kingmaker after his party won eight seats and has refused to endorse either Gantz or Netanyahu. Gantz might be able to convince the Arab Joint List, which won 13 seats, to support the coalition from the outside.
That would bring down Netanyahu but result in a highly unstable government. It’s also far from clear that Lieberman, a nationalist with a history of harsh rhetoric toward the Arab minority, would support such a scheme. No Arab party has ever sat in an Israeli government.
The political deadlock dates back to April, when Lieberman refused to join a right-wing coalition under Netanyahu. In response, parliament voted to dissolve itself, leading to an unprecedented repeated election in September. A similar scenario could play out again.
The political deadlock has delayed the Trump administration’s release of its long-awaited peace plan. The Palestinians have already rejected the plan, accusing the administration of extreme and unfair bias toward Israel.