Racism rears head in mayoral run

I’m reprinting an op-ed from the Cleveland Jewish News titled Racism rears head in mayoral run because the pattern of fear-mongering, hate and corruption is all too familiar. We have allies fighting the same battles all over the world. Bravo to Cliff Savern for the brave post. It isn’t easy for Jews to stick up for Arabs in Israel.

Posted: Thursday, August 15, 2013 10:00 am


RA’ANANA, Israel – Israel defines itself as both a Jewish and democratic state. One of the most interesting aspects of this is how the country resolves potential conflicts between the two. I think it’s fair to say that overwhelmingly, the legal system resolves them in favor of democracy, but one public official, Shimon Gapso, is advocating a swing in the other direction in his ugly campaign for re-election as mayor of Upper Nazareth.

Upper Nazareth is a predominantly Jewish town of more than 40,000 residents in the north of Israel. It abuts the city of Nazareth, home to about 75,000 people, virtually all Arab. Upper Nazareth was founded in the 1950s in an effort to create a Jewish presence in an area of the Galilee that was overwhelmingly Arab. The concern was that Israel would lose control of the region unless Jews lived there. In fact, the residents of large swaths of the Galilee are overwhelmingly Arab to this day.

Upper Nazareth grew quickly, particularly due to the influx of Soviet Jewish immigrants in the 1990s. The interesting twist is that among recent newcomers to the city are Israeli Arab residents of Nazareth who have sought to live in Upper Nazareth and benefit from the Jewish town’s superior municipal services. Since the election of Mayor Gapso in Upper Nazareth in 2008, the percentage of his town’s residents who are Arab has grown from 15.2 to 19, according to the Israeli government statistics bureau. But now Gapso is trying to stem the tide, stirring up Jewish voters’ fears of a continued Arab influx and the prospect that the town’s identity will no longer be Jewish.

Gapso opposed the opening of a school in his city for Arab children, where Arabic would be the language of instruction. In the current election campaign, he has even resorted to issuing campaign posters publicizing criticism he has engendered from the left wing, as if it were a badge of honor that would gain him more votes. Thankfully, when it comes to an Arabic-language school, the national Education Ministry has announced that the school will be established despite Gapso’s opposition. Gapso’s tactics may win him re-election, but the reality is that nearly one in five of his constituents will be Arab the day after the election, as is the case today.

I would guess that Israel has not seen anything like the current campaign since 1988, when Rabbi Meir Kahane and his right-wing Kach party were disqualified from appearing on the Knesset election ballot due to their racist ideology. It is absolutely essential that the legal system protect the rights of the Arab residents of Upper Nazareth. I have every confidence that it will. And the legal system may deal an even more lethal blow to Gapso’s tenure at city hall. In June, he was indicted on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. The case against him is pending.