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Ha'aretz, Sunday, January 11, 1998

Because he's an Arab

Ha'aretz Editorial


Mayor Amram Mitzna and the Labor faction of Haifa council frustrated the appointment of Meretz representative Ghassan Abu Warda as chairman of the local education department. Nobody denies the claim that it was the duty of Mitzna and his party to honor the agreement with Meretz, but the appointment was blocked on the grounds that Abu Warda, who serves as deputy mayor, lacks the skills required for the job. The basic reason for keeping the job from Abu Warda was that he is an Israeli Arab. In the first days of his struggle for the job, this was said expressly both by anonymous sources within Haifa Labor Party and by a senior Likud representative, who stated that until there is an Arab chief of staff, there will be no Arab education department head.

Opponents explained that a majority of students in Haifa are Jewish, and they should not be under the supervision of an Arab. Later, when resistance to this racist reasoning arose, it was said that Abu Warda is indeed worthy of serving as deputy mayor of Haifa, but lacked the skills necessary for the education position.

None of these explanations is satisfactory. What is true for a senior army officer is not true for the manager of a municipal education department. Service in the IDF before full peace is achieved raises emotional difficulties for many Arab Israelis. This is not true of their participation in the Israeli education system.

Also, the claim that Abu Warda does not have the proper skills is not logical. He is an academic and a lawyer by profession; no wrongdoing is associated with his name, nor any criminal conviction or improper behavior. The political system has no tools to measure the degree of his suitability to stand at the head of the education system as a political appointment, nor is such a test necessary. This is the nature of democracy: government and municipal department heads are political appointments, and those working with them have to have the appropriate professional skills.

The truth about the appointment of advocate Abu Warda is the same as for other political appointments in the government and municipal systems; nobody can say in advance and for certain whether his skills are less than those that allow Yehoshua Matza to serve as Health Minister or Michael Eitan as Science Minister.

There has never been an aptitude test for Jewish public activists. The denial of Haifa Mayor Mitzna on the matter will not help him here, and there is no alternative but to conclude that the main reason for preventing Abu Warda's appointment to the job is his Arab origin.

Even though the initiative to disqualify Abu Warda came from the Haifa Labor faction, the national party should not accept the ease with which Mitzna's demand was met. The Labor standing committee, and primarily its chairman Ehud Barak, should unambiguously express their opinion about the act committed by Mitzna and his colleagues.

One can only wonder at why such a crass decision, originating from racist considerations, has aroused only a weak cry ending only in the withdrawal of Meretz from the municipal coalition. Meretz should have awakened outrage among the enlightened public. Bombastic talk about making Israeli Arabs part of the country does not have to be tested by the manning of the top of the IDF pyramid, but by the manning of the hundreds and thousands of jobs that Jews and Arabs are permitted to hold, for professional and political reasons.


(c) copyright 1999 Ha'aretz. All Rights Reserved


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