The mayor of Ashkelon is not a racist

Willing to face ostracism and possible indictment in order to protect the weakest sector of his city from a palpable threat, Itamar Shimoni is exhibiting leadership, not racism.

Hof Ashkelon (photo credit: ARIEL BESOR)
Hof Ashkelon
(photo credit: ARIEL BESOR)
On Thursday, Ashkelon Mayor Itamar Shimoni announced that he would be imposing a temporary halt on the work of Arab laborers renovating bomb shelters in a small number of nursery schools in his city. He also said he would be posting security guards at kindergartens near construction sites where Arabs are employed.
The storm that ensued makes the snowfall in Buffalo look like a flurry.
Ironically, it is a tempest which caused a rare consensus among Israeli politicians, nearly all of whom immediately denounced Shimoni.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that there is “no place in Israel for discrimination against its Arab citizens.”
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni asked Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein to investigate Shimoni for violating the Equal Opportunities in the Workplace Law.
Interior Minister Gilad Erdan, Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon stressed that “only a tiny minority” of Israeli Arabs is violent and warned against the evils of discrimination and racism.
Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz bemoaned the souring of relations between Arabs and Jews due to the actions of a few jihadists.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog said that even during difficult times, Israel has not taken discriminatory measures against its Arab citizens.
Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On called Shimoni’s edict illegal and immoral.
United Arab List-Ta’al MK Ahmed Tibi said that security should not constantly serve as an excuse for racism and apartheid.
The Israeli media also went ballistic, accusing Shimoni not only of criminal racism, but of engaging in it to “regain the spotlight he lost” when Operation Protective Edge ended and he was no longer in the news every day. They failed to mention that the reason for his previous “fame” was that Ashkelon is situated a mere eight miles from Gaza, and suffered from the highest number of rocket barrages fired into the country by Hamas during the war.
They also left out the part about terror tunnels leading from Gaza into the Ashkelon coastal region, with a shaft found under a kindergarten.
A far more important omission during the initial blitz on Shimoni was the context in which he was operating when he made his decision to temporarily forbid Arab men from wielding sharp tools around Jewish children. On Tuesday, two terrorists slaughtered four rabbis praying at a Jerusalem synagogue, killed a policeman who had come to their rescue, severely wounded several others and traumatized the survivors. The men who committed the heinous act, using guns and meat cleavers, are holders of Israeli identity cards. One of them worked at a nearby grocery store.
Three weeks prior to this massacre, which was celebrated widely in the streets of Gaza and cheered in the Palestinian Authority press, civil rights activist Rabbi Yehuda Glick – a leader in the campaign for Jews to be allowed to pray on the Temple Mount – was gunned down by a terrorist outside of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem, where he had just given a lecture. This would-be assassin, who had spent years in prison for previous terrorist activities against Jews, was an employee of the restaurant at the Begin Center.
In the interim between these two events, several other innocent Israelis were killed or wounded in stabbings and vehicular attacks, executed by Arab men who live and work freely among the rest of Israeli society.
During this period, which is being called the “third intifada,” terrorist states and organizations have been calling on Arabs in and around Israel to harm as many Jews as possible.
And last week, a shipment of weapons headed for east Jerusalem, falsely labeled as Christmas ornaments, was intercepted by Israeli security services.
In addition, Hamas declared Friday another “day of rage.”
Many residents of Ashkelon thus heaved a sigh of relief at Shimoni’s decree. Though the city’s official parents’ union condemned it, parents with children in the nursery schools in question held a demonstration on his behalf. Like Shimoni, they insisted that this was not due to a lack of faith in the majority of the Arab population in Ashkelon (which makes up 20 percent of the total), but rather to the current climate and special circumstances.
“I would rather be taken to the Supreme Court than, heaven forbid, to the funeral of a kindergarten child,” Shimoni told Channel 2 on Thursday evening. Finding himself under fire and at the wrong end of the law, Shimoni backed down on Sunday. His new decision is to leave the Arab workers at the kindergartens to complete the job of renovating the bomb shelters, while moving the children from those specific pre-schools to community centers.
Shimoni may well find himself at the wrong end of the law. But there is nothing in his behavior that warrants being labeled a racist. Willing to face ostracism and possible indictment in order to protect the weakest sector of his city from a palpable threat, he is exhibiting leadership.
The writer is the author of  To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’