Israel slams amusement park over policy on Arab school visits

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

Israel's founding.

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

ignore it."

(Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Mark Heinrich)