Posted by seaslug on July 11, 2002 at 17:52:27:
Opposition was growing last night to a plan by Ariel Sharon's government to build public-sector housing within Israel exclusively for Jews.
Left-wing and Arab MPs denounced as "racist" Sunday's cabinet decision to back a private member's bill barring Arabs from buying homes in "Jewish" townships, built on state-owned land. Israel has about 1 million Arabs, nearly 20 per cent of the population.
Shulamit Aloni, a veteran civil rights campaigner and former minister, said: "If we are not an apartheid state, we are getting much, much closer to it." Yossi Sarid, who succeeded her as leader of the Meretz party, added: "The Israeli Arabs are not guests here. They are citizens with equal rights."
Azmi Bishara, of the Arab Balad party, said: "Racism has become an official ideology of the state of Israel."
Elyakim Rubinstein, the Attorney General, urged ministers yesterday to think again. Mr Rubinstein, a civil servant whose job is to advise the government on legal matters, warned them that the bill was likely to deepen the rift between Jewish and Arab citizens.
The bill will be presented to parliament after the long summer break. It is unlikely to pass into law, if at all, until next year. Even then, it could still be subject to a long appeal process in the Supreme Court.
Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, the Defence Minister, announced that Labour ministers and MPs would oppose the bill when it was debated. Mr Ben-Eliezer, the party leader, did not explain why his ministers refrained from fighting the measure at Sunday's cabinet meeting.
The plan was supported by 17 right-wing and religious party ministers. Ephraim Sneh, the Transport Minister, was the only Labour representative who openly opposed it. Other ministers either left the chamber or muttered their reservations.
These passive dissenters included at least two from the right of the spectrum – the Justice Minister, Meir Sheetrit, of the Likud and one of his predecessors, Dan Meridor, who condemned the proposal as "flagrantly discriminatory."
The bill, promoted by Rabbi Haim Druckman, a National Religious Party MP, is designed to reverse a landmark Supreme Court ruling of March 2000. That judgment said it was unconstitutional to prevent one Israeli Arab, Adel Ka'adan, from moving his family into the new community of Katzir in the predominantly Arab Wadi Ara valley north-east of Tel Aviv. The community of Katzir was itself an act of demographic engineering, an attempt to change the Arab-Jewish balance in the area.
Mr Ka'adan is a nurse in the emergency ward of a hospital in the town of Hadera, where he has often treated victims of Palestinian suicide bombings.
He said yesterday: "Peace-loving people, both Arabs and Jews, are struggling to bring people closer together. In one moment the government has taken a decision that kills these budding flowers of peace. "At the hospital, we work together, and the government tries to cut off all this."
Rabbi Druckman, a veteran ideologue of Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, was unrepentant. He hailed Sunday's vote as "one of the government's finest hours under Sharon's leadership," an act that "brought back the colour to the cheeks of Zionism".
Limor Livnat, the Likud Education Minister and the bill's cabinet sponsor, contended that it stemmed not from discrimination but from "the main basis of Zionism – the return of the Jewish people to its land".
The bill's critics are disturbed not only by the principle at stake, but also by the timing.
Israel is struggling to convince a sceptical world it is not a racist state, that in the conflict with the Palestinians it has right on its side. The bill's opponents fear that this measure will give Israel's enemies fresh ammunition in the public relations war.
• Israel?s Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, met the Palestinian Finance Minister, Salam Fayed, yesterday in the first face-to-face contact on that level in months. The two spoke about economic issues.