Justice Minister Tzipi Livni has asked Israel’s attorney-general to look into a claim that the country’s largest adventure park has a policy of segregating Arab student groups.
“If the facts are correct, then it is a serious symptom of an ailing democracy and every instance must be severely dealt with,” Livni was quoted by the Hebrew news site Walla as saying.
Allegations of discrimination at the park were leveled by Khaled Shakra, a seventh-grade teacher at the Ajial school in Jaffa, who tried and failed to book a day at the park for a group of his students.
In a letter shared by the Arab Israeli Balad party on Facebook, Shakra alleged that when he first telephoned to reserve the visit he was told that the dates of June 17,18 and 19 were specifically set aside for group visits and that he could choose any of those dates.
However, according to Shakra, as soon as he revealed to the obviously Arabic-sounding name of his school, he was relayed to a second Superland employee who imformed him that there were no places available. When Shakra offered to alter the date of his visit he was likewise rejected.
Half an hour later, he said, he called the theme park again, this time introducing himself as “Eyal” — a Hebrew name — and saying he represented a Jewish NGO, and was told that the dates were in fact open for his group.
After the story broke, Superland confirmed that it had a policy of designating separate days at the park for group visits by Arab and Jewish schools. However, the park claimed, the segregation policy was due to the demands of both Arab and Jewish schools that feared outbreaks of violence between groups of students.
Asked by Israel Radio Thursday how the exchange with Superland made him feel, Shakra said, “I felt many things all at once. I felt frustration, despair… I’ve experienced racism in the past, but this was the most severe incident.”
Livni said that she intended to criminalize any type of discrimination on racial grounds.
Education Minister Shai Piron called Shakra on Thursday to express his indignation, the minister’s office said in a statement.
“I’m shocked by such discrimination, which has no place in Israeli society,” Piron said, extolling the virtues of “equality, partnership and tolerance.”
“I consider a shared life between Jews and Arabs one of the foundations of the Declaration of Independence,” he added.
MK Ahmad Tibi of the United Arab List called on police to close Superland.
“The behavior of the owners is a stinging slap in the face to efforts to deal with the phenomenon of racism in Israel society,” said MK Amram Mitzna of Livni’s Hatnua party. Mitzna is the chairman of the Knesset’s Education, Culture, and Sports Committee.
Mitzna scheduled an urgent meeting of the committee next Monday to discuss the matter. Among those invited were the principal of the school that was rejected by Superland and representatives of the theme park, Israel’s largest, sprawling over 20 acres in Rishon Lezion.
“It’s a shame that instead of a haunted house at Superland, they nurture the demon of racism and hatred,” said MK Esawi Frij (Meretz).
Mitzna appealed to the Education Ministry to halt any further student group visits to the pleasure park and suggested that schools should abort any planned visits. He also called on the mayor of Rishon Lezion to take legal action against the owners.
Responding to the report, the Hashomer Hatzair youth group announced Thursday that it would cancel visits by 6,000 participants of its summer camps.