Politicians from across the political spectrum in Israel including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Thursday blasted an announcement by the mayor of the southern city of Ashkelon that he planned to suspend construction of bomb shelters at three kindergartens that had Arab laborers on the job, a decision he linked to security considerations following a murderous rampage on a Jerusalem synagogue Tuesday by two Palestinian cousins.
One of the cousins from east Jerusalem was reported to have been working at a grocery store near the synagogue, which presumably would have allowed him to choose and scope out the target.
Ashkelon Mayor Itamar Shimoni said that he was suspending construction of kindergarten bomb shelters were Arabs who are Israeli citizens had been hired as contractors in an effort to calm parent fears about terror attacks.
Shimoni wrote on Facebook Wednesday that in kindergartens where Arabs had been hired, work would be “suspended until further notice.” He also announced the positioning of armed guards at city preschools near other construction sites where Arabs work, Ynet News reported.
According to Ha’aretz, a city official later clarified that the policy would be in effect only until "things calm down."
“There’s no place for discrimination against Israeli Arabs,” Netanyahu said Thursday according to the Times of Israel. “We mustn’t generalize about an entire population because of a small minority of violent and belligerent [individuals].”
“The vast majority of Arab citizens of Israel are law-abiding,” he added.
Besides a chorus of protest from left-wing politicians, leading right-wing ministers also blasted the move.
Interior Minister Gilad Erdan called it “unacceptable” and said he would examine its legality.
“At this time, it is the obligation of leaders to try to calm the atmosphere and return a sense of personal safety,” Erdan said.
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett said the government has a “policy of zero tolerance toward discrimination by religion or race.”
Bennett told the Times of Israel that while Israel must “crack down uncompromisingly on terror … this does not justify racism.”
“The overwhelming majority of Israeli Arabs are loyal to the state of Israel,” Bennett added.
Member of Knesset Nachman Shai of the Labor Party said the mayor’s move was illegal under Israel’s employment laws.
“Relations between Jews and Arabs are now being tested, and leaders are commanded to preserve such relations, not tear them apart to the point where it may be impossible to fix them,” Shai said.
Ofer Shelah, a lawmaker with the Yesh Atid party echoed that charge.
“Public representatives are obligated to show leadership and reduce the flames rather than fan them,” Shelah said in a statement quoted in the Times of Israel. “Staining an entire community of citizens and marking them as a potential danger threatens to tear Israeli society apart and do the job of terrorists for them.”
Shimoni, the mayor, told Israel’s Army Radio that the move was just temporary that that he planned to eventually “welcome [the Arab workers] back with candies.”