Yair Netanyahu, son of Israel’s prime minister, called on Sunday, June 14, for “minorities to be banished from Tel Aviv-Jaffa.” The younger Netanyahu made the comment in the wake of protests that erupted among the Arab community in Jaffa because of the municipality’s plans to build a center for the homeless on a site that was an historic Muslim cemetery. Specifically, Netanyahu made this call while responding on Twitter to Blue & White minister Alon Schuster’s tweet in which the latter opined that there is no chance for the coexistence of Arabs and the Jewish settler minority in Palestinian Hebron. To this the scion of the Netanyahu family tweeted: “The riots [in Jaffa] prove that there is no chance for coexistence in Tel Aviv and all the minorities must leave the city.”
Joint List MK Ofer Cassif (Hadash), blamed the prime minister for his son’s statement. “The rotten apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” Cassif said. “The little racist learned hate and ignorance in his father’s house. There is no chance for coexistence with haters like them, and they should leave Israel.”
The Communist Party of Israel and Hadash published a communique on Sunday in solidarity with Arab protesters in Jaffa, saying, “Don’t touch religious sites; Mayor Ron Huldai must alter his course.” They added that a solution is possible “that will end the tensions over the cemetery.” On Saturday, the Joint List also condemned the city’s plans.
Support for the cemetery’s preservation also came from an unexpected source: members of the Sephardic ultra-Orthodox Shas party. MK Yinon Azoulay (Shas) sent a letter opposing the demolition to Deputy Interior Ministry Yoav Ben Tzur, also a member of Shas. Ben Tzur sent a request of his own to Tel Aviv’s mayor Huldai on Sunday, asking him to stop construction on the site. “This is not a cold and formal judicial matter, but a moral issue of the utmost concern: our obligation to protect the dignity of the deceased,” Ben Tzur wrote. The Interior Ministry, which Shas controls, is ultimately responsible for urban planning and construction across the country. In his letter, Azoulay opposed what he said would be a double standard in the government’s handling of Jewish and Islamic sites.
Hundreds of demonstrators have gathered nightly on Yeffet Street in Jaffa during the past week, with protests spilling over into neighboring streets downtown. While many protesters demonstrated peacefully, so far each night has ended in clashes between Jaffa residents and police, with stone throwing, burning cars and multiple arrests.
The dispute is over a burial site, known in Arabic as Maqbarat al-Is’aaf. When bulldozers last year demolished the building there, the bones of at least 30 persons were discovered to have been buried beneath the floor of the structure. The Israel Antiquities Authority determined that the cemetery contained bones from the Ottoman period all the way back to the Hellenistic period (late fourth to mid-first centuries BCE).
Upon this discovery, the local Islamic Council erected a tombstone over each of the graves. “The Muslim community in Jaffa in general, like all of the city’s residents, have no problem with the homeless project, and it’s appropriate to find a physical location for it, but not over a Muslim cemetery,” Tel Aviv Hadash city council member Att. Amir Badran told Al-Ittihad.