Upcoming Local Elections in Mixed Cities Bring Out Anti-Arab...
Upcoming Local Elections in Mixed Cities Bring Out Anti-Arab Sentiment
In advance of Israeli municipal elections on October 30, some political parties are campaigning on platforms of tensions and mistrust between Jewish and Arab citizens, reinforcing and, some say, legitimizing divisive discourse along ethnic lines.
This is especially the case in so-called "mixed cities," where Jewish and Arab citizens live in the same locality. Some of these cities, such as like Tel-Aviv-Jaffa, Haifa and Lod, are known as Israel's historically mixed cities, and some, like Nazareth Illit and Karmiel, have become more integrated over the past decade as a result of young, educated Arab families moving there from nearby Arab towns, seeking better quality of life and affordable housing.
While strongly criticized by their political opponents, civil society organizations, and Arab leadership, party leaders stand by these campaign themes. Some defend these campaigns as echoing the Nation-State Law, which supports Jewish settlement, and others say they are only targeting the Islamic Movement, not all Arab citizens.
In Tel Aviv, at the beginning of October, the local Likud party debuted campaign advertisements with the slogan, “It’s us or them,” framing the elections as Jewish residents vs. Arab residents of Jaffa, African migrants, and NGOs that oppose Israel’s presence in the West Bank.
Among the slogans in the Likud ads, which appeared on billboards, minibuses and on social networks, were: “It’s us or them – The Hebrew city or the Islamic movement in Jaffa,” “It’s us or them – The Hebrew city or the city of infiltrators,” and “It’s us or them – Education for Zionism or Breaking the Silence in schools.” In a campaign video clip, as well as on numerous billboards in the city, Palestinian flags are seen on the streets of Tel Aviv-Jaffa accompanied by the words: “Either us, Likud, which will leave Tel Aviv and Jaffa in Israel – or the pro-Palestinian parties that want an Islamic Jaffa and a country of infiltrators in the south.”
Following widespread denouncement of the campaign from politicians, organizations, and the public, the signs have been removed.
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai tweeted that he "congratulates the Likud party for responding to my call to remove their election campaign which has no room in our city. In Tel Aviv-Jaffa there is no ‘us vs. them’" (Hebrew). Asaf Zamir and Asaf Harel, candidates in Tel Aviv, stated that the campaign "does not represent the spirit of Tel Aviv" and that the "Likud list is following its bosses' tactics of incitement and divisiveness" (Hebrew). "Yaffa," a local Arab list from Jaffa, condemned the "Us or Them" campaign. Candidate Lisa Hananya who occupies the number 2 slot on the list, said, “Between residents, between neighbors, that's not the way to run a campaign… we have to all stand together against this type of discourse." (Hebrew)
Camel Agbariya, a local activist who serves as the Advisor on Arab Issues to Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, said, “It saddens me to see such a campaign…people forget that Tel-Aviv Jaffa is a mixed city of Jews and Arabs and will remain so also after October 30th… to me that's what incitement looks like." (Hebrew).
A Haaretz editorial called on the Central Elections Committee Chairman to "ban this campaign of incitement.” A local Jewish performance artist known as "Shoshke" expressed his protest against the campaign by replacing the Likud ads with his own posters, which were titled "It's Us… or Us," showing the diversity of Tel-Aviv Jaffa as smiling finger puppets representing different ethnicities. A number of residents from Tel Aviv also protested the negative campaign theme. For example, one filed a complaint in the Tel Aviv police station against the Likud party for incitement, while another resident printed signs saying "Danger! Incitement!" and glued them on top of the campaign posters, asking friends through Facebook to refer him to additional such campaign posters.
At the same time, The Deputy Mayor of Tel Aviv, Arnon Giladi, heads the Likud slate for city council. “There is no racism” he said, claiming the campaign does not target Arabs in general. “Arab citizens are residents of Jaffa, and we love them and we embrace them. But the Islamic Movement is infiltrating it and trying to change the face of Jaffa.” After the signs were removed, Giladi stated he still "believes in the same messages and will continue to voice his opposition to the Islamic Movement" (Hebrew).
Similar sentiments are being voiced in Afula, where the incumbent, Mayor Yitzhak Meron, was attacked by his opponent for publicly stating that Jews and Arabs can live in Afula together. Afula is a city with a growing Arab population, where demonstrations against Arabs buying homes erupted this past June.
Candidate and former Mayor Avi Alkabetz, who has the support of the Jewish Home Party, warned that Meron is “turning Afula into a mixed city”, and "colluding with the extreme left." As a result, MK Issawi Freij (Meretz) appealed to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to revoke Alkabetz's candidacy. However, on October 10, the Election Committee confirmed Alkabetz's candidacy (Hebrew).
Supporters of Avi Elkabetz told Ynet that "Avi Elkabetz is not running a racist campaign and his platform is not racist in any shape or form. Elkabetz is campaigning, among other things, in the spirit of the Nation-State Law, which incorporates national and Jewish values of the State of Israel and encourages Jewish settlement. Afula is truly at a historical crossroads and is liable to become a mixed city. Elkabetz vehemently opposes this and reiterates that he favors good relations with our Arab neighbors but insists on preserving the Jewish character of Afula.” Alkabetz himself responded to the Election Committee's decision with a Facebook post stating, "We beat them! We beat the extreme left!" (Hebrew).
In Nazareth Illit, where Arabs are now about 25 percent of the population, a national-religious list called "The Jewish Union" is promoting a campaign under the slogan "Nazareth Illit is Jewish." This campaign was criticized by a number of civil society organizations as well as by Joint List MK Hanin Zoabi. In response to these criticisms, more than 20 rabbis from the city signed a petition supporting the Jewish Union and stating it "represents" them (Hebrew).
In Haifa, Jewish Home Chair Yoav Ramati stated that he planned to create a list of the Jewish merchants in the city and encourage residents to buy only from them in order to strengthen the Jewish merchants in the city over the Arab merchants (Hebrew).
Following a petition by Hadash to the Local Election Committee, the Jewish Home list ceased this campaign theme while apologizing and stating that the idea was "never intended to harm Arab merchants" (Hebrew).
In Ramle, a mixed city in Israel's center where about one-quarter of residents are Arab, the Jewish Home local list started a campaign against "hundreds of cases of assimilation in Ramle.” The party created posters showing a woman wearing a hijab, with Shabbat candles and wine in the background, and the statements: "Tomorrow this Might be Your Daughter" and "Only a strong Jewish home will keep Ramle Jewish."
Numerous political voices from the Zionist Union and Meretz and civil society organizations criticized the campaign. Tag Meir posted on Facebook, "How would we have responded to a poster like that against Jews in Poland?" Ariel Shoham, who is running for mayor as the head of the Jewish Home’s Ramle list, responded to remarks about the poster, denying that it is a racist campaign. “It’s part of a painful issue we’ve been dealing with in Ramle for years,” Shoham told Channel 10 News. “This sign is not crazy; the picture is very beautiful. It is a statement – we do not encourage assimilation marriages." The Jewish Home political party responded to criticism against the Ramle faction’s campaign, saying: “The party’s position on assimilation is clear: The Jewish nation must preserve its national character and preserve its tradition, religion, culture and heritage. At the same time, it is appropriate to maintain a respectful campaign style.”
Soon after the posters went up, most of the billboards were smashed, prompting the removal of the signs.
Civil Society Response
Beyond local opposition to individual campaigns, Sikkuy, The Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality, has called on the attorney general to act against expressions of racism in the municipal election. “This type of discourse can strain relations between residents… while acting against it will … prevent physical violence against civilians,” the organization wrote in a letter to Attorney General Mandelblit.
"Unfortunately, there are candidates who use racist and even inciteful rhetoric against Arab citizens in order to gain visibility in public discourse," Sikkuy wrote. According to Sikkuy, the phenomenon is most common in the municipalities where Jews and Arabs live side by side, as well as in Jewish local government authorities bordering Arab communities. Sikkuy has launched a special Facebook page where people are encouraged to post racist slogans and signs they see in their own locality as part of local elections campaigns, and to send a complaint about them to the attorney general (Hebrew).
Darkenu, a new social movement promoting "the moderate majority," also criticized the campaign, posting on Facebook that "The uniqueness of Tel Aviv is that it is composed of different voices within the political map, so the current campaign is a choice to play a dirty game using tools of incitement and exclusion." (Hebrew)