Knesset panel discusses building Arab school in Upper Nazareth

Mayor labels move a "nationalist provocation under the guise of human rights"; Arab MKs calls his opposition racist.

Upper Nazareth 370 (photo credit: Upper Nazareth Municipality)
Upper Nazareth 370
(photo credit: Upper Nazareth Municipality)
The Knesset Education Committee on Tuesday discussed the issue of establishing an Arab school in Upper Nazareth, despite the adamant refusal of the city’s Mayor Shimon Gafsou.
Committee chairman MK Amram Mitzna (Hatnua) said that the mayor’s position was unacceptable, while a group of Arab MKs led by Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta’al) and Haneen Zoabi (Balad) said the refusal was racist.
Gafsou explained his opposition by declaring that the wish to build an Arab school in his city was a “nationalist provocation under the guise of human rights.”
For many years, he said, the Arabs of Nazareth and the Jews of Upper Nazareth lived peacefully side by side, each with their own customs and way of life.
However, Gafsou continued, the discussion was really about altering the status quo by changing Upper Nazareth from a Jewish city into a mixed one, thereby giving up its Jewish character. The result of letting more and more Arabs enter his city will result in the flight of Jews from the city, Gafsou added.
“I, and the tens of thousands of residents that are with me, will not allow this to happen!” the Upper Nazareth mayor stated, adding that the effort to establish the school is meant to “oust the Jews from the Galilee.”
Gafsou said that Arabs that still want to live in the city know beforehand that they will have to travel five to 10 minutes by car.
“Anyone who comes to live in Upper Nazareth” knows that it is “a Jewish city, which speaks Hebrew, flies the blue and white flag – singing ‘Hatikva,’ does not drive on Yom Kippur and prays in the synagogue,” he said.
Asked by The Jerusalem Post if there is a mosque in his city, Gafsou responded, “No and there will never be mosques in Upper Nazareth as long as I am the mayor.”
Amnon Beeri-Sulitzeanu, the co-executive director of The Abraham Fund Initiatives in Israel, told the Post that Upper Nazareth is already a mixed city according to the official state definition, which applies to other mixed cities such as Acre, Haifa and Ramle.
As such, he said, the city has an obligation to build the school and supply services to its Arab population just like other mixed cities.
The Abraham Fund co-director called Gafsou’s statements a racist policy, and said that the city has an obligation to provide Arab schools to its residents.
It cannot be a case of a particular mayor deciding whether there should be a school or not, Beeri-Sulitzeanu said, adding that the government should implement a policy for mixed cities on a national level. The decision should not be left to the whims of the mayor that happens to be there, he argued.
Beeri-Sulitzeanu said that one of the reasons that this issue has come to the fore is because of the difficulty of building and lack of housing in Arab villages.
Therefore, according to him, Arabs move to mixed cities because they have no choice.
Furthermore, Beeri-Sulitzeanu said, a third of students in Upper Nazareth are Arabs and hence, the city should have mosques as well as Arab schools.
Gafsou responded to Beeri-Sulitzeanu’s arguments, making three main points. First, he stated that there is currently a struggle going on over the identity of the city and the day that “we give up and define it as a mixed city, will be a watershed in the history of the city,” as the next day there would be strong currents pushing it to become a majority Arab city.
Second, any local government is based on the idea that local residents should be able to influence the identify and character of where they live. As Jews that chose to come live in this city, we have a right to shape its character and not have to “escape from city to city like the Jews who did so for a thousand years until the establishment of the state.”
Lastly, he denied that he is a racist as such a person believes in the superiority of one race over another, whereas in this case “I am a Jew in Israel who wants to live among his nation – not because they are better, but because they are my people. If this is racism – the whole idea of a Jewish state is racist.”