The real story of immigration in the Dominican Republic

Recently, Ruth Messinger wrote an op-ed about the immigration and citizenship policies of the Dominican Republic and how they affect people of Haitian descent.  

While I  agree with Ms. Messinger that we should care for and support those of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic, I strongly disagree with her assessment of what is happening and find her rhetoric troubling. I think it’s her responsibility as a respectful Jewish leader to do the necessary research before writing an opinion that is so far from the present truth.

I am proud of being both Jewish and a Dominican citizen.  I have lived my entire life in the Dominican Republic and am glad to see that the Dominican Government is taking steps to remedy a citizenship system that for decades left hundreds of thousands of people undocumented and vulnerable.  The current policy has the laudable goal of guaranteeing a regular status to every person living in the Dominican Republic.

In every country, people who are undocumented live in fear because they are outside the legal system and the smallest mistake or problem can have unfortunate consequences.  Bringing undocumented persons out of the shadows and into a legal framework that provides rights should be regarded as a positive step.  

It is important to note that the Dominican Government has worked with many well-known international organizations and foreign governments in developing and implementing its citizenship and immigration policies.  They have also pledged to allow all members of the international community to visit and report on what is happening.

Like any sovereign country, the Dominican Republic has deportation policies.  The Dominican Government has pledged to observe international norms; that they will not deport anyone born in the Dominican Republic; and will determine each person’s citizenship on an individual basis. 

Our president, Danilo Medina, has invited members of the international community to inspect and observe deportations. I find this commitment to transparency significant and hope the international community will do as much as possible to hold the government accountable. 

I agree with Ms. Messinger that the US should help and I would go even further to call on other developed countries, the UN, NGO’s, aid organizations and the Jewish community to help everyone on the Island of Hispaniola, including the Haitian Government.  Many countries and organizations—especially those that have resources that the Dominican Republic does not have—are not doing enough to help those in need.

As a resident of Santo Domingo, I invite Ms. Messinger and members of the Jewish community to come to Hispaniola.  I think the story of those who gain regular status is uplifting.  Hundreds of thousands of people—especially those of Haitian descent—are gaining rights in the Dominican Republic through fair and transparent policies.   

Yours Truly;

Jose Singer

Response to Ruth Messinger

I have just read the article posted by Ruth Messinger titled “American Jews Must Speak out for Haitians in the Dominican Republic”. It is obvious that Ms. Messinger has never been to the Dominican Republic, knows nothing about the Dominican Republic and is totally ignorant on the subject of which she gives opinions. I was born in China; my father was in Buchenwald for 6 months and I have lived in the Dominican Republic practically my whole life.

I will not deny that there are individuals that discriminate, just like in the US, Israel and most other countries. I will categorically deny that it is government policy. There are an estimated 2 million Haitians living in the Dominican Republic. For whatever reason they are here, many of them have no identity papers, but the large number that do, have them because the Dominican Government provided them free of charge, something that the Haitian government won’t do, not even at a price.

Some Dominican public hospitals are overwhelmed by the number of Haitian women who cross the border without papers, just to give birth without any of them being denied that service which these hospitals can ill afford. The public university has large numbers of Haitian students and in any aspect of Dominican life, Haitians are involved. These examples are not a justification for anything, but just a contradiction of the ridiculous comparison made by Ms. Messinger to the situation here to the Holocaust. She obviously doesn’t even know about the Holocaust. Dominicans are no like those Germans. Dominicans are human and humane and for Ms. Messinger to imply otherwise only depicts her total ignorance on the subject. I would expect more from a Jew or for that matter from any other intelligent human being.

She repeats outright lies without bothering to search for truth. I say to her: come and visit. Live among Dominicans. Research their faults and benevolences and you will become a different human being. If you need to criticize, pick your own country which ever you consider it to be. You’ll find more there than here and don’t involve the Jews in your agenda. We do speak out and try to be righteous, but not based on your ignorant perceptions.

Joe Benjamin

American Jews must speak out for Haitians in Dominican Republic

Fewer than 800 miles from our shores, a deeply disturbing crisis is unfolding as tens of thousands of citizens of the Dominican Republic face deportation from their country simply because of their heritage.

Tragically, people of Haitian descent who were born in the Dominican Republic have been stripped of their rights and their citizenship, and are living in a state of legal limbo. These people are not all recent immigrants, as the Dominican government would have you believe, but come from families that have been living in the Dominican Republic for up to a century.

I cannot help but see this crisis through Jewish eyes, and I call on the United States government to do all it can to stop it.

People with lifelong roots in the Dominican Republic as well as more recent arrivals are facing possible exile in Haiti. But for many born in the Dominican Republic, Haiti is a country in which they have never lived, whose language they don’t speak and which does not recognize them as legal citizens.

For some, exile is already a reality. In fact, a recent Human Rights Watch report documented more than 25 detentions in which Dominicans of Haitian descent were forcibly taken to deportation points along the border, despite having valid documentation of being born in the Dominican Republic.

Without any recognized citizenship, these people would be without a home, have no guaranteed civil rights, no right to due process in any court in the world.

Taking this all in, I cannot help but feel a sense of deja vu. We have seen this tragic movie before.

In 1939, in waters not far from the island that Haiti and the Dominican Republic share, Jewish refugees aboard the Saint Louis — people whose rights had been stripped from them in Europe — were denied access to Cuba and the United States. Throughout the 1930s, Jews found their rights being whittled away across Europe and most dramatically in Germany. When the Nazis passed the Nuremberg Laws, they stripped Jews of all of their rights as the terrible first step of their genocidal campaign.

Further back in history during the Middle Ages, Jews were frequently expelled from countries such as England, France and Spain for spurious reasons, including causing illness and pestilence.

In the Dominican Republic, where there is a prevalent culture of racism and discrimination against Dominicans of Haitian descent, the situation is sadly reminiscent of very difficult chapters in Jewish history. For generations, politicians have used Haitians as scapegoats, blaming them for problems such as poverty and disease. Now the situation is getting worse, including a sharp increase in attacks. A February lynching of a Haitian immigrant and other recent assaults reflect a culture of violence against people of Haitian descent, and it is common to see racist depictions of Haitians in Dominican newspapers.

As we have seen in the past, institutionalized hate and mass violence unfortunately feed off one another. This fear of violence is forcing thousands of Dominicans from their homes — a practice that the Dominican government has given the Orwellian name of “successful self-deportation,” but which in truth is forced migration.

One more complex layer of history must be acknowledged. In the 1930s, when very few countries would accept Jewish refugees from Europe, the Dominican Republic offered to open its doors, but for tragic reasons. At the time, the Dominican Republic’s dictator, Rafael Trujillo, did this both to divert attention from a recent massacre of 25,000 Haitians and, perversely, to increase the number of Europeans on the Island.

Given this history, Jewish-Americans must join the outcry and speak out about the horrific treatment of people of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic. We have a unique understanding of the horrible consequences when people remain silent in the face of government actions to strip communities and individuals of their rights. We therefore cannot stand by while governments do to others what has been done to us.

We must insist that the United States do all it can to ensure that the Dominican government immediately restores citizenship for all Dominican-born individuals who have been denied their nationality and upholds international human rights for Haitian immigrants, including not splitting up their families. Moreover, the Dominican government must vigorously respond to popular violence against people of Haitian descent, including the mistreatment and abuse of Haitian immigrants.

As Jews, the details of the persecution are intolerably familiar. We must not and cannot let history repeat itself.

Ruth W. Messinger is president of American Jewish World Service, which works to end poverty and protect human rights in the developing world.

Spanish Congress to vote on final amendments to Jewish citizenship law

Spain’s congress is poised to vote on final amendments that would make it possible for descendants of Sephardic Jews to apply for citizenship.

The Congress of Deputies is scheduled to vote on the amendments on June 11, according to a statement published on the congress’ website on Monday.

Under the amendments, approved by the Spanish senate on May 27, applicants would be able to apply without traveling to Spain, as proposed in previous amendments which did not pass, but are required to hire a Spanish notary and pass tests on the Spanish language and history.

Applicants can study for the tests and take them at the facilities of the Cervantes Institute, a government entity that offers courses on Spanish culture and its language in over 20 countries, including Israel.

“The procedure for acquiring Spanish nationality regulated in this law will be electronic,” the amendments read. “The request will be in Spanish and will be overseen by the General Directorate of Registrars and Notaries.”

In addition, candidates will need to apply to the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain, or FCJE, which will vet applications along with government officials, the amendment states. If passed by the congress on Thursday, Spain’s law for nationality for descendants of Sephardic Jews will come into effect in October. The law will expire after three years, though it may be extended another year if deemed necessary.

The law is the result of a government decision from 2012 that described offering citizenship to Sephardim as compensation for their ancestors’ expulsion from Spain in the 15th and 16th centuries by the Spanish royal house and church in the Spanish Inquisition. Portugal passed a similar law, which went into effect earlier this year. It is open-ended and does not require proven knowledge of Portuguese.

Whereas the law passed unanimously in Portugal, in Spain it prompted opposition leaders to accuse the government of discriminating against other minorities, including Muslims, who were expelled from Spain during the Inquisition. It is nonetheless expected to pass in the congress.

Jesús Enrique Iglesias, a former communist and lawmaker for the United Left party, told the EFE news agency that the government was “relativizing grievances” with its new law.

And Jokin Bildarratz of the Basque Nationalist Party called the law a “historical injustice” if it is not extended to Muslims that were expelled.

Some historians have disputed the comparison, citing the presence of Muslims in Spain as occupiers who were driven out of Spain back to their lands of origin.

In Jerusalem passport case, justices consider congressional role in foreign policy

A lawyer for a boy born in Jerusalem whose parents want Israel listed as the birthplace on his U.S. passport tried mightily this week to make a Supreme Court hearing mainly about their wish, but the justices kept upping the ante.

That might mean bad news not just for 12-year-old Menachem Zivotofsky and his folks. It could also present a problem for the prospects of U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital should the court defer to the Obama administration’s argument that a 2002 law allowing the Israel listing infringes on the president’s prerogative to set foreign policy.

Alyza Lewin, the lawyer who represented Zivotofsky in oral arguments at the court Monday, acknowledged that the tenor of questioning indicated support among the justices for the idea that the case hinges on the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches.

But in gamely parrying some tough questions in her first appearance before the nation’s highest court, Lewin sought to downplay the significance of recognizing Zivotofsky’s birthplace as Israel, saying it was an issue of personal choice and not an attempt to interfere with the president’s right to recognize foreign governments.

“We gave the court alternative arguments, that what you put on a passport does not amount to recognition,” Lewin told JTA.

Monday marks the second time that the Supreme Court has heard arguments on the constitutionality of the 2002 law, which allows U.S. citizens born in Jerusalem to have Israel listed as their birthplace on their passports.

The measure was enacted by President George W. Bush, but both he and Obama have declined to enforce it. The Zivotofskys filed suit after the State Department refused their request to list Menachem’s birthplace as Israel.

In 2009, an appeals court ruled that the passport question was a political issue beyond the scope of the the judiciary to decide. Three years later, the Supreme Court overruled that finding and ordered the lower court to rehear the case. Last year, the appeals court ruled that the executive branch prevailed on matters of foreign policy, prompting Zivotofsky to appeal again.

The justices seemed skeptical of Lewin’s claim that the Zivotofskys’ bid did not challenge the presidential recognition prerogative.

“What is the effect of this statute other than something that goes to recognition?” Justice Elena Kagan asked.

“This statute is a statute that was created to give individuals the right to self-identify as they choose that they were born in Israel,” Lewin replied.

Kagan said that if that were true, “this is a very selective vanity plate law,” noting that Americans born in Northern Ireland could not identify as being born in Ireland. “And for that matter, Kagan said, “if you are an American born in Jerusalem today, you can’t get the right to say Palestine.”

Anthony Kennedy, often a swing justice on the nine-member court who more often than not sides with the conservative wing, also seemed skeptical of Lewin’s claim.

“Do you want us to say in our opinion that this is not a political declaration?” he asked.

Lewin answered in the affirmative.

“Well then,” Kennedy said. “I’m not sure why that Congress passed it then.”

Like Bush before him, Obama maintains that changing the wording on passports would damage the American role as a peace broker in the Middle East by favoring an Israeli claim to Jerusalem. Since Israel declared independence in 1948, the United States has maintained that no country has sovereignty over Jerusalem and that the city’s status must be determined by negotiations.

A win for the Obama administration would inhibit Congress’ ability to affect foreign policy, said Marc Stern, the general counsel for the American Jewish Committee, which filed an amicus brief on behalf of Zivotofsky. Such an outcome could have an immediate impact by, for example, limiting congressional ability to restrict the dimensions of a nuclear deal with Iran, Stern said.

“It won’t be just a decision on presidential power around the world, it will also be understood as undercutting Israeli claims to Jerusalem,” Stern told JTA. “In the real world it will have impact and we’ll have to figure out what to say at that point. What does that mean for what the administration says about a final settlement, and is west Jerusalem up for grabs?”

Lewin said she was not concerned that a decision, even one that goes against her client, would have such broad ramifications. The current court has been known for narrowly casting its decisions and avoiding far-reaching constitutional conclusions.

“I don’t see this court writing an opinion giving the executive branch such broad power in foreign policy that it cuts out Congress from that role,” said Lewin, the daughter of seasoned Supreme Court lawyer Nat Lewin.

Lewin did acknowledge, however, that the ruling could have far-reaching import for Jews and their attachment to Jerusalem.

“Getting this practice changed is very important psychologically, regardless of separation of powers,” she said. “And this case has raised awareness. Before this, many people were unaware that the formal position of the United States is not recognizing Israel’s capital as Jerusalem.”

Nathan Diament, the Washington director of the Orthodox Union, which filed an amicus brief on behalf of Zivotofsky, said that while Lewin was casting her case as the choice of an individual, it had broader meaning.

“There are many American Jews and other Americans who think it’s absurd that the United States and other world governments do not extend to Israel the courtesy they extend to other countries by recognizing where its government sits as its capital and has not located its embassy there,” he said.

Court rules Judaism, not place of birth, is grounds for Israeli citizenship

The Haifa District Court on Tuesday rejected an appeal submitted by Professor Uzzi Ornan, who sought to compel Israel’s Interior Ministry to recognize his citizenship based on the fact that he was born in Israel, rather than on the grounds that he was Jewish.

Ornan, a linguist and member of the Academy of the Hebrew Language, who is also the founder of the League against Religious Coercion in Israel, petitioned the Interior Ministry in 2010 to recognize him as an Israeli, not on grounds of being Jewish but because he was born in Israel.

In his ruling on Tuesday, Judge Daniel Fisch said that it was without a doubt that the petitioner, Prof Uzzi Ornan, was born to a Jewish mother, and was therefore Jewish, which the law of return states as the source of his citizenship.


Israeli citizenship law: Human rights vs. demographics

It was an important decision, and not a trivial one, when Israel’s Supreme Court upheld a law last week that prevents most non-Israeli Arabs who marry Israelis from living in Israel. The court was split almost in half: Six justices sided with the majority ruling, and five justices — Chief Justice Dorit Beinisch included — opposed the ultimate decision. The numbers reflect the magnitude of the dilemma, they reflect the fact that this could not be an easy decision for any country, and they reflect the delicate balancing act with which Israel has to live. Thus, it is good that five justices did not want to uphold the law, good to have a sizable opposition for such a ruling.

The law in question is problematic. It is meant to prevent the immigration of non-Israeli Arabs — mostly Palestinians who live in the West Bank and Gaza —into Israel by way of marrying Arab Israelis. It states that the interior minister can grant citizenship only when an applicant has convinced him that he identifies with the State of Israel or in cases where the applicant or his family members have contributed to Israel’s security.

Civil rights advocates have argued that such a law infringes on the rights of Israeli citizens to a family life. The Israeli authorities claimed that Palestinian immigrants-by-marriage pose a security threat — a claim that is not easy to prove: The number of Palestinians that have been allowed into Israel through marriage and later were caught engaging in terrorist activity is relatively small. Civil rights advocates also argue that the real story behind the law is not one of security, but rather one of demography: The state wants to maintain its Jewish majority. It is a claim that’s hard to deny with a straight face, and was definitely one of the reasons for lawmakers to propose and support the legislation.

That the court was split, then, should not be a surprise. Here was a collision of the most basic and sacred principles of the Jewish state — Israel’s liberal principles versus Israel’s constant need to stand alert against its enemy; Israel’s democratic nature versus Israel’s ultimate desire to maintain a Jewish majority and a Jewish character (whatever that means).

One should not be surprised by the nature and tone of response to this ruling of the court. Naturally, Arabs were not happy with the court’s decision. Leftist Israeli lawmakers joined in the condemnation, saying that “the [Supreme] Court’s power has been weakened in the fight against racism.”

At the other end of the political spectrum, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar mocked the protestations from the left. “Respect for the rule of law and for judicial decisions cannot only be when those decisions are consistent with one’s own world view,” he said, reminding Israelis that speakers on the left are usually the first to defend High Court decisions, and the first to see any criticism of the court as a sign of a weakening democracy.

That the court has been influenced by the public mood is possible. That it is influenced by realities “on the ground” is also a possibility. This just might be one of these cases where reality has to trump theory. On paper, this law is not an easy one to defend. In reality, eliminating a law that is quite sensible under the current circumstances is also not easy to defend. On paper, the law (and the court’s decision) might seem like a blow to human rights and human dignity. In reality, human rights can’t be defended out of context and can’t be judged as a stand-alone value. Yes, security matters, and, yes — as unfashionable as saying it might seem — demography also matters. Preserving a Jewish majority is very important — it is at the heart of why Israel was established. Is it more important than “human rights”? That is not a fair question. This law doesn’t cancel “human rights,” but rather limits one right for some people for the sake of preserving other rights of other people — the right of Israelis to be safer, and their right to defend the character of their Jewish state.

Is this an easy call? I wouldn’t say it is — the legislators and the court have limited the rights of Arab Israelis. I therefore understand the frustration and even the indignation of the people opposing the court’s decision. The Supreme Court, though, is not a one-cause institute for human rights. It has to consider human rights, and security, and long-term goals of the state, and the current state of affairs, and, yes, at times, even the public mood — and then balance them all. This time, the scale tipped toward preserving a controversial law, a problematic law, a difficult and sticky law. Not because it is a good law, but because it is better than the alternative.

Anchor babies away?

President Barack Obama’s administration said in July that it would give immigration officials more leeway to choose not to deport people who came here illegally but who have lived in the United States for most of their lives, committed no other crime, or have family here —particularly those who are active-duty service members.

Republican soup of the day Newt Gingrich has promised something similar: A “path to legality” (but not citizenship) for illegal immigrants who have “deep ties to America, including family, church and community ties,” plus jobs, English skills and their own health coverage.

Republican nominee wannabe Mitt Romney has roused from his slumber to attack Gingrich for supporting amnesty but is on record as having backed an awfully familiar-sounding proposal in 2006 that “those that are here paying taxes and not taking government benefits should begin a process toward application for citizenship, as they would from their home country.”

But, for now, deportations are on the rise, with the Obama administration recently celebrating its 1 millionth booted immigrant (an impressive increase over George W. Bush’s record — he managed only 1.5 million deportations total during his presidency), even as overall immigration has declined in the last three years, likely as a result of less appealing economic conditions. The total population of illegal immigrants is tough to measure (for obvious reasons) but sits somewhere between 8 million and 12 million people.

Two new reports give a clearer portrait of the people who come to the United State illegally, and what they mean to their adoptive country.

The first, a Pew Hispanic Center analysis of census data, finds that 65 percent of illegal immigrants have been in the country for 10 years or more, with only 15 percent residing in the United States for less than five years. And the share of long-haulers has increased, doubling since 2000.

Nearly half of unauthorized adult immigrants have a minor child, compared with just 38 percent of legal immigrants and 29 percent of U.S.-born adults. Most of the difference is explained by the fact that illegal immigrants are mostly young adults in their prime childbearing years.

Those facts combine to create a situation where 9 million people are in mixed-status families — which include at least one illegal immigrant adult and one U.S.-born child. There are also 400,000 illegal immigrant children who have U.S.-born siblings.

In other words, a significant majority of illegal immigrants likely fit neatly into the “good illegals” box created by various major party candidates. They’re people who have come to the United States to stay and raise families. And whatever services they take from the government, those families provide the United States with the ultimate resource — more people. 

Or at least they do for now. Hispanics make up 81 percent of the population of illegal immigrants in the United States, which makes a second set of findings highly relevant: Data from the National Center for Health Statistics reveals a dramatic drop in births among Hispanics. The number of babies born to Hispanics is down 11 percent since 2007. Hispanics account for a quarter of all U.S. births and half of the country’s population growth. USA Today reports that in 9 percent of the nation’s 3,141 counties, the population would have declined if Hispanics had not moved in, citing University of New Hampshire demographer Kenneth Johnson.

The astronomical fertility of illegal immigrants has been presented as a menace, but the presence of illegal and mixed-status families within our borders is the only thing keeping U.S. fertility figures bobbing around at replacement rate. But the drop in birthrates in the face of declining economic conditions suggests that opening our borders wider may be the only way to maintain that record.

A May Pew study found that 72 percent of Americans support a path to citizenship (not just legality) for illegal immigrants who have jobs, pass a background check and are willing to pay fines — which is a better deal than either party’s politicians are willing to offer at this point.

A fifth of Irish would bar Israelis from becoming citizens

More than one in five Irish people would bar Israelis from becoming naturalized Irish citizens, according to new research into ethnic and religious attitudes in Ireland.

The book-length study, “Pluralism and Diversity in Ireland,” found that 22.2% of Irish people would exclude Israelis from Irish citizenship, while 11.5% would deny it to all Jews.

Israelis as a group also had one of the lowest favorable ratings among Irish people, ranking 44th out of 51 categories.

“There is a real danger that the public image of ‘Israeli’ can lead to an increase in anti-Semitism,” the book’s author, Jesuit priest and sociologist Father Micheál Mac Gréil, told The Irish Catholic newspaper.

The research found prejudice against Jews was most prevalent among young adults in the 18-25 age group. Only 53.6% of this group would accept a Jewish person in their family, versus 60.7% for Irish people of all ages.

Israelis were considered less acceptable as kin, with only 47.9% of Irish people prepared to admit an Israeli into their family.

The Republic of Ireland’s Jewish population is less than 2,000 out of a total of 4.5 million.

Akko riots expose Israel’s Arab-Jewish tinderbox

JERUSALEM (JTA)—The rioting in the mixed Jewish-Arab city of Akko, which erupted after an Arab man drove through a Jewish neighborhood on Yom Kippur, shows just how combustible Arab-Jewish relations in Israel are.

Yet after four successive nights of clashes, in which rampaging Arabs stoned Jewish-owned shops and cars as Jewish mobs torched Arab homes, there was no sign of the violence spreading to other mixed-ethnic cities such as Haifa, Jaffa, Nazareth or Lod.

Nor did the current Jewish-Arab tensions appear likely to reach the proportions they did following October 2000, when Israeli police shot dead 12 Israeli Arabs and a visitor from the West Bank in clashes across northern Israel that coincided with the launching of the second Palestinian intifada.

But the rioting in Akko is more than an isolated violent episode in need of containment. Even if the rioting abates, it is sounding warning bells for the Israeli government. Jewish-Arab tensions in Akko and in the country as a whole have been simmering under the surface for years. The rioting was an expression of Arab frustration and Jewish mistrust.

The latest trouble started on the eve of Yom Kippur, Oct. 8. On this holiest day of the Jewish calendar, everything in Israel comes to a halt. For the duration of the 25-hour fast, businesses and places of entertainment are shuttered, and the roads are virtually free of cars. Even completely secular Jews and non-Jewish Israelis refrain from driving in Jewish neighborhoods.

So when an Akko Arab drove his car into a Jewish neighborhood that night, reportedly blaring loud music, the act seemed like a deliberate provocation.

Angry Jews forced the car to stop, pulled out the driver and beat him. News of the beating quickly spread across the city, and from the mosques Arabs were called upon to avenge what by then had been exaggerated to “two Arabs murdered by Jews.”

Hundreds took to the streets, mostly young, masked men who marched into the main Jewish neighborhood smashing shop windows, shattering car windows, slashing tires and torching vehicles. In retaliation, Jewish mobs set fire to several Arab homes in the predominantly Jewish neighborhood. Police appeared to be overwhelmed by the rioters.

The pattern repeated itself for the next three days and nights. Gradually the police ramped up their response, and by Monday hundreds of police officers were deployed in the city backed up by the Israeli army’s border police. More than 60 arrests were made.

To help defuse the tension, Akko Mayor Shimon Lankri postponed Akko’s annual Fringe Theater festival, explaining that the political content of some of the plays could further aggravate tensions. In any case, he said, audiences would stay away given the new of the riots.

“This is not a time for celebrations,” he declared.

But some saw in Lankri’s announcement an attempt to punish the city’s Arabs, saying Arab businesses benefit most from the business the festival brings to the city.

Meanwhile, right-wing Jewish extremist groups and radical Arab agitators tried to fan the flames while Israel’s political leaders—including some Arab leaders—struggled to restore calm.

Some Jewish extremists called for a boycott of Arab businesses, while Hamas leaders urged Israeli Arabs to start a “third intifada.”

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert accused extremists on both sides of “holding the city ransom.”

Mostly, however, leaders on both sides issued appeals for calm and a quick return to coexistence. After meeting Monday with Jewish and Arab religious and community leaders in Akko, President Shimon Peres said he was optimistic and “surprised at the degree of willingness for dialogue on both sides.”

Earlier, Arab community leaders had issued an apology for the desecration of the Jewish holy day. The Arab driver went to a televised meeting in Jerusalem of the Knesset’s Interior Committee, where he said he had not intended any provocation but had made a terrible error of judgment: He said he thought that because it was very late at night, no one would notice his car driving into the mostly Jewish neighborhood where he lived.

In a square outside city hall in Akko, members of the Mapam-affiliated Shomer Hatzair youth movement built a sukkah and invited both Arabs and Jews to visit in a spirit of reconciliation.

One of the first guests was Arab Knesset member Abbas Zakoor, an Akko resident and a member of the radical Raam-Taal party. Arab Knesset members, who often resort to inflammatory language as they compete for an increasingly radicalized Arab constituency, have played a remarkably conciliatory role in the current unrest.

Paradoxically, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, which were meant to resolve the Israeli-Arab predicament, have sharpened tensions between Israeli Arabs and Jews.

Israeli Arabs see their Palestinian cousins, once sworn enemies of the Jews, being offered full statehood, while they, citizens of the Israeli state, are ignored. They still recall with anger the October 2000 clashes in which Israeli police opened fire on Arab rioters. The Arabs point to the harsh police response—Israeli police don’t use live fire against Jewish demonstrators—as evidence of the double standard often applied to Israeli Arab citizens.

Similarly, some Israeli Jews point to the riots of eight years ago as a reminder that Israel’s Arab citizens cannot be trusted: When the Palestinians launched their intifada that month, Israel’s Arabs rioted in solidarity with the Palestinians.

The Orr Commission set up to investigate the 2000 clashes found “years of discrimination” against Israeli Arabs and urged the government to do more to promote Jewish-Arab equality and provide Arab and Jewish municipalities with proportionately equal budgets. This has not happened.

In 2006, Israeli Arab leaders moved to a more publicly critical stance on the Jewish state, producing a document seeking virtual autonomy for the Arab minority and calling for an end to the Jewish character of the state. Titled the “The Future Vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel,” the paper demanded veto rights and autonomy in domestic affairs, rejected Jewish symbols of state and provided a narrative of colonial conquest by Jews, naming Israeli Arabs as the land’s only indigenous people.

With the background of the ongoing Israeli-Arab conflict and day-to-day tensions between Israeli Arabs and Jews, particularly in mixed cities like Akko, the rioting there really should have come as no surprise. All that’s needed is something incendiary to set the two sides aflame.

Elie Rekhess, the director of the Konrad Adenauer Program for Jewish-Arab Cooperation at Tel Aviv University, says Arab-Jewish relations in Israel are a powder keg waiting to explode. If Akko is not the trigger, something else will be, Rekhess says—unless the government finds a way to give Israeli Arabs a sense of truly shared citizenship.

What Israel means to me

This is one in a series of articles and essays on myriad topics related to Israel that will run weekly as we approach the Jewish state’s 60th anniversary on Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel Independence Day, in May.

Noam Chomsky was interviewed in the summer 2004 issue of Heeb magazine:

Nation & World Briefs

Israel Upholds Contested Immigration Law

Israeli Arabs are upset after Israel’s top court upheld a controversial law that prevents Palestinians married to Israeli Arabs from living in Israel.

By a vote of 6-5, the High Court of Justice on Sunday rejected petitions filed against the Citizenship and Entry Law.

While acknowledging that the law violates the human rights of the thousands of Israeli Arabs married to Palestinians, the High Court said national security must take precedence.

At least one of the Palestinian suicide bombers to have struck since 2000 was a resident of Israel through marriage, and Israeli Jews are all the more suspicious of Palestinians since they voted in a Hamas government earlier this year.

“The Palestinian Authority is an enemy government, a government that wants to destroy the country and is unwilling to recognize Israel,” Justice Mishael Cheshin wrote.

But Israeli Arabs, who make up 20 percent of the country’s population, voiced their opposition to the decision.

“On this day, the High Court effectively approved the most racist legislation in the State of Israel: legislation which bars the unification of families on the basis of national belonging: Arab Palestinian,” Adalah, the legal center for Arab minority rights in Israel, said in a statement.

Adalah likened the ruling, which means that many Israeli Arabs will either have to live apart from their Palestinian spouses or move to the West Bank or Gaza Strip, to South Africa under apartheid. Israeli officials have long rejected such comparisons as false, given the open conflict with the Palestinians and other constitutional rights generally enjoyed by Israeli Arabs.

First passed in 2002 at the height of the terrorist attacks, the Citizenship and Entry Law all but banned residency rights for the Palestinian spouses of Israelis.

An amended version in 2003, when the High Court petitions were first filed, loosened the law to allow eligibility for female candidates older than 25, and men older than 35 — ages at which Palestinians are statistically far less likely to take up arms.

Then-Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said national security justifies the law. But she also cited growing fear of an influx of Palestinians seeking the better life on offer in Israel, some of them through fictitious marriages with Israeli Arabs.

“There is nothing wrong with looking to safeguard Israel’s Jewish majority by law,” she said at the time.

Her successor, Haim Ramon, said Sunday that he would seek to enshrine the Citizenship and Entry Law in Israel’s Basic Laws.

“The High Court ruling appears to apply to a certain population sector, but I intend to make a law that will apply to everyone,” he told Army Radio. “Under the law, a citizen of a hostile country won’t be able to adopt Israeli citizenship, except under certain circumstances that the state will determine.” — Dan Baron, Jewish Telegraphic Agency

American Teen Dies of Bomb Wounds

An American teenager died of wounds sustained in last month’s Tel Aviv suicide bombing. Daniel Wultz, 16, succumbed Sunday in Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital, becoming the sole American fatality of the April 17 attack. Wultz, of Weston, Fla., was visiting downtown Tel Aviv with his father over Passover when they were hit by shrapnel from a Palestinian suicide bomber. Tuly Wultz, who suffered light injuries, went on to organize prayer campaigns for his son’s recovery. Daniel Wultz was the 11th fatality from the bombing, which was carried out by Islamic Jihad. Another casualty, 26-year-old Israeli Lior Enidzer, died last Friday. He had recently married.

Israel Gets Spot on U.N. Committee

Israel was appointed to a spot on the United Nations committee on nongovernmental organizations. The committee of the U.N. Economic and Social Council meets twice annually and reviews applications for special status with the commission. “Maybe our membership in the committee will help make Israeli NGOs more aware of this avenue and encourage them to seek a relationship with the economic and social council,” said Marco Sermoneta, a counselor at Israel’s mission to the United Nations. In addition, he said, membership would be a “good way to diversify our visibility in the United Nations.”

Poet Stanley Kunitz Dies at 100

Stanley Kunitz, a former U.S. poet laureate who made metaphoric use of the Talmud and other Jewish images in his poetry, died Sunday at 100. Kunitz, who was known for writing on themes ranging from life and death to gardens, received the Pulitzer Prize in 1959. The son of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, he gave up his dream of earning a doctorate at Harvard after being told that non-Jewish students wouldn’t enjoy being taught English literature by a Jew. A pacifist, Kunitz was a strong opponent of the Vietnam War and, later, U.S. military involvement in Central America and Iraq.

Abbas Criticizes Hamas

Mahmoud Abbas assailed Hamas for harming the Palestinians’ image abroad. In a speech broadcast Monday, the Palestinian Authority president called on the Islamic terrorist group to renounce violence and accept peacemaking with Israel now that it’s leading the P.A. government.

“We must not resign ourselves to fiery speeches and slogans that could bring about international isolation,” Abbas said.

He added that by continuing to call for the Jewish state’s destruction, Hamas justifies Israeli arguments that there is no Palestinian partner for peace. Abbas also appealed to Israel not to implement Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s “convergence plan,” under which it will withdraw unilaterally from parts of the West Bank and annex others in the absence of peace talks.

Pilgrims Flock to Tunisian Synagogue

Thousands of people attended the annual Lag B’Omer pilgrimage to the Tunisian island of Djerba. The two-day celebration at the Ghriba Synagogue marks the end of a legendary plague 2,000 years ago. The synagogue was the site of a 2002 Al-Qaida terrorist attack that killed 21 people, mostly German tourists. The synagogue is the oldest Jewish house of worship in Africa and serves one of the world’s oldest Jewish communities.

Holocaust-Era Archives to Open?

A commission of 11 nations is expected to vote to open Holocaust-era archives. Representatives of the countries that oversee the former Nazi files met Tuesday. Germany recently agreed to open up the archive, which contains 50 million files and is administered by the Red Cross.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency