(photo credit: WIKIMEDIA)
An advocacy group for Israel’s Arab citizens has slammed as “racist” a decision by the local council head of the northern town of Kfar Vradim to freeze plans for its expansion after half of the successful bids in a first round of tenders for new housing went to Arabs.
Council head Sivan Yechiel wrote in a message to residents that his position makes him “responsible for safeguarding the Zionist-Jewish-secular character of Kfar Vradim” and that he had decided “to place before the relevant government offices the demand to create solutions that maintain demographic balances.” In practice, this means freezing the tender process.
Arab families succeeded last week in attaining 58 out of 125 tenders for land for new housing to be built in Kfar Vradim, which neighbors the Arab area of Tarshiha in the Upper Galilee.
Adalah, the legal center for Arab minority rights in Israel, said in a statement on Sunday that “the words and actions of Kfar Vradim’s local council leader are motivated by racism. To prevent Arab citizens of Israel from purchasing homes due strictly to their national identity is an illegitimate act and stands in absolute contradiction to the principles of equality to which the local council is obligated.”
“The Israel Lands Administration must make it utterly clear to the local council leader that his statements are patently unacceptable and that he must refrain from all interference in land tenders,” Adalah said.
A source in the Kfar Vradim local government, who declined to be named, said that last week’s bidding was the first round in a planned process of major expansion of the wealthy town, which currently has 1,700 households. Some 50 of them are Arab. A total of 2,200 new units were to be added to the town.
But the results of the bidding have placed those plans in limbo. “What people said in light of the results is that if the meaning of expansion is to lose the character of the community than this is not what we want.” The source declined to comment on the accusations of racism.
The source said that Yechiel has written to government ministers “to ask their views because this is a strategic issue.” If the ministers decide that there aren’t “more balanced solutions” it is “uncertain” that the village will continue to grow, the source said.
In his message to residents, Yechiel wrote that “the issue of the changing of communities that were established as Jewish to those with a mixed population of various degree is not the private issue of Kfar Vradim. It applies to Afula, Nahariya, Karmiel and across the Galilee.”
“If we don’t know, with the help of the state, how to give a demographically-balanced solution that will ensure the continuation of the character of the community, we will stop the marketing until we know how to give ourselves a legal and correct answer from the community perspective,” he said.
According to Thabet Abu Rass, the co-director of the Abraham Fund Initiatives, the Arabs buying land in Kfar Vradim come from a middle class that is seeking a better quality of life than that available in the Arab municipalities, which are ranked the lowest in socioeconomic terms in the country. “They demand a better quality of life and can find it only in the Jewish cities. As long as the quality of life does not improve in the Arab towns, this stream of immigration to Jewish towns will continue.”
He noted that Kfar Vradim is ranked at the top of the Israeli socioeconomic scale. “Middle- and upper-class Arabs from Tarshiha, Majd el-Kurum and elsewhere will go there for quality of life. We are talking about professionals who work in Haifa and Acre – professors, doctors and business people.”
He criticized the decision to freeze the tender process. “Those Arabs are citizens and are entitled to equal rights,” he said.
Joint List MK Jamal Zahalka accused Yechiel of enacting an “apartheid” policy. “This is racism against upstanding citizens who just want to live. It is not only racist, it is stupid because the [Kfar Vradim residents] could benefit from multiculturalism. Those who don’t want the Arabs have a lot to learn from them.”
Referring to the Egyptian diva of the 1960’s, he suggested that Kfar Vradim residents could do with hearing some Um Kalthoum songs in the town. “It will only broaden them. They live in the Middle East so they should hear the voices of it.”