Ashkelon Mayor Itamar Shimoni is backtracking from his directive to lay off Arab workers doing construction on bomb shelters at local schools, instead moving students to a second location, according to a Sunday morning report.
Shimoni came under fire last week after announcing he would not allow Arab construction workers installing new bomb shelters in city kindergartens to continue work, responding to fears following a Jerusalem terror attack.
According to the Ynet news website, Shimoni now plans to allow the laborers to continue working and instead move children to community centers for the week it will take to finish the construction work.
Shimoni, who had also ordered that kindergartens near construction sites with Arab workers be given armed guards, said in a statement that while his earlier move was ill-planned, he was only reacting to concerns from residents following the terror attack on a Har Nof synagogue that left five dead Tuesday.
“My decision was disproportionate,” Shimoni said according to Ynet. “Overall I was attentive to parents, and under no circumstances did I given an order to expel Arabs from Ashkelon.”
Home Front Command told the city that there was a week’s worth of work left to do at the schools, according to the site.
Shimoni was denounced by Israeli leaders across the political spectrum for announcing on Wednesday that he would terminate construction of bomb shelters at any kindergarten where Arab workers were employed and also order the posting of armed guards outside kindergartens near building sites that employ Arab construction workers.
Prime Minister Netanyahu said there is no place in Israel for such discrimination, and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat Barkat said Shimoni’s move hearkened back to Nazi Germany.
Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein warned that the move would have serious legal ramifications.
“Not employing workers due to their being Arabs, and having a public official sending the message that employing Arabs is undesirable, does not comply with the law,” Weinstein wrote.
Initially, Shimoni defended the move.
“At the moment there’s a prevailing feeling among parents, [and] I was at a crossroads and had to make a decision,” Shimoni said in an interview with Army Radio on Thursday. “I’m comfortable with this decision and I hope very much that this whole business will quickly calm down, and I will welcome [the Arab workers] back with candies.”
Despite the criticism from politicians, many Israelis backed the directive, which came on the heels of a Tuesday terror attack by Palestinians from East Jerusalem on the synagogue in Har Nof, a part of Jerusalem far from the violence that has wracked the city in recent weeks.
A Channel 10 poll showed 58 percent of Israelis supported Shimoni’s move, 32% did not support it and 10% did not know. The channel did not release methodology details.
Tuesday’s terror attack seemingly set off a wave of anti-Arab sentiment, with some employers firing Arab workers out of fear, the paper reported Thursday. One event hall owner in the Tel Aviv suburb of B’nei Brak was quoted saying he let 17 Arab dishwashers go because he couldn’t trust them.
In addition, the mayor of nearby Ashdod, Yehiel Lasri, seemed to target Arab workers when he ordered security checks for workers at construction sights and demanded contractors review their workers’ documents. He also decided to assign security details to kindergartens near construction sites and reinforce security patrols in the city with the help of parents.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.