By Allyn Fisher-Ilan
JERUSALEM, May 30 (Reuters) - A furore over perceived racism
in Israel broke out on Thursday after it emerged that a popular
amusement park had a policy of hosting segregated outings for
Jewish and Arab schools.
The practice came to attention after an Arab secondary
school teacher, in an interview with Israeli Army Radio, said
the Superland park near Tel Aviv refused to sell him tickets by
telephone for a mid-June visit by his students.
When the teacher, Khaled Shakra, phoned back and identified
himself by a Hebrew name, the park took the reservation. "I have
never been so humiliated," he said on the radio.
The park's management did not return a telephone call from
Reuters asking for comment.
But in a statement in the Haaretz newspaper, the park said
it had received requests "from Jewish and Arab schools alike" to
hold their outings on separate days.
"These requests are due to the fact that at issue are high
school and junior high school pupils, coming for end-of-year
group events, that are liable to lead to tension and violence
between the different groups of pupils from the different
sectors," the park said. It pledged to re-evaluate its policy.
Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon voiced shock at the matter.
"I ask myself how would one of us react if in any other country,
the director of an amusement park were to tell us they have
separate visiting days for Jewish schools and other schools?" he
said on his Facebook page.
The incident spotlighted a big faultline in Israeli society.
Arab citizens who comprise about a fifth of Israel's
population often complain of discrimination. Most are descended
from Palestinians who fled or were forced out in a 1948 war for
With rare exceptions, Jewish and Arab children attend
separate primary and secondary schools across the country,
though colleges and universities are largely integrated.
Lawmaker Amram Mitzna, chairman of parliament's education
committee, has called on local authorities to weigh legal
measures against the park. He urged schools to avoid it as an
outings venue pending a legislative review of the incident.
In a statement posted on parliament's Web page, Mitzna
denounced the park's action as "a stinging slap in the face to
efforts to confront racism in Israeli society. We shall not
(Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Mark Heinrich)