(JNi.media) A political storm is blowing in Israel’s southern city of Arad, where members of the local Ultra-Orthodox community are attacking the new mayor, claiming he is harassing and attacking them. Mayor Nissan Ben Hamo, for his part, says he’s only enforcing the law, and claims UTJ Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman is trying to intimidate him — a claim Litzman called a lie.
According to Kikar Hashabbat, Arad Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Zvi Bialostosky sent a personal letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, asking him to reject the mayor’s request for a differential budget—which is Israel’s version of affirmative action.
“The prime minister is hereby requested to instruct all government departments not transfer funds to the Arad municipality, not for education, not for culture and not for everything else, before the mayor cancel the boycott and discrimination he has declared against Arad’s Ultra-Orthodox residents and send them the funds that are their due under the law,” wrote Rabbi Bialostosky in his letter, adding, “the Honorable Prime Minister must condition the transfer of every budget on ensuring the share of the Ultra-Orthodox community in Arad.”
Rabbi Bialostosky claimed that “the Ultra-Orthodox community in Arad is an anathema in the eyes of the mayor.”
“The mayor declares from any possible platform that his aim is to prevent the Ultra-Orthodox from settling in Arad, and conditions transferring budgets to [religious] institutions on their promise not to bring more Ultra-Orthodox to Arad,” Bialostosky added.
According to Bialostosky, the Ultra-Orthodox community in Arad has about 5,000 members, 3,000 of whom are minors. In the lower grades, about 50% of students come from Ultra-Orthodox families. “But the mayor blocks them with his body and does not permit the establishment of [Ultra-Orthodox] day-care centers, kindergartens and schools, while public secular education institutions are located in large buildings which are mostly empty, and our children are sitting in caravans on hot summer days.”
Mayor Ben Hamo argued in a radio interview Wednesday that Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman threatened him with blocking his government budget.
Ben Hamo was asked why he is acting against the Ultra-Orthodox in his city and replied: “I am working to implement the law and enforce it equally. The Gur Chassidic community has gotten used over time that the city turns a blind eye, and every time there’s some problem, their ultimate threat is We’ll break up the coalition, they terrorize the mayor, and then everything goes their way.”
“This past election I said one simple thing to the residents of Arad… I will be a Mayor who will not be subject to blackmail, will not be subject to bullying, no one will dictate to the mayor of Arad how to manage the city and certainly not to do it against the law. I’m still the mayor of everyone, and I’ve won broad support of the Religious Zionists, of the Chabad community, of all religious denominations other than the Gur Chassidic sect,” the mayor insisted.
“To say now that I use intentional discrimination against the religious community — it’s far from the truth,” Ben Hamo reiterated.
“Rabbi Zvi Bialostosky is causing an enormous damage to the Arad community. He hurts directly the Arad Municipality, and in fact, shoots the foot of Gur Chassidim here, in Arad,” Ben Hamo said.
“I was summoned for a clarification meeting with Deputy Health Minister, the honorable Rabbi Litzmann, who sat with me and told me in no uncertain terms: ‘My dear friend, the fact that you were elected Mayor does not mean anything. Either you give the Gur Chassidic sect what they want in Arad, or I personally will prevent you from getting government funding,’” Ben Hamo told radio listeners.
“This is what a [deputy] minister in Israel tells a mayor,” Ben Hamo said. “I was told this at a meeting in the Israeli Knesset, let the listeners understand how it went.”
The office of Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman said in response to the mayor’s accusations that “these are lies that should be rejected out of hand. This is a mayor who shamelessly announced that he would only provide classrooms for the children of the Ultra-Orthodox in the city on the condition that [the Ultra-Orthodox community] pledge to stop Haredim from coming to live in Arad. This is disgraceful behavior that must not be ignored.
“The mayor’s duty is to provide educational services as well as all municipal services, without stipulation and without discrimination. The mayor has voiced this condition in his meeting with the Deputy Minister of Health, who protested it and said that he would fight this anti-Semitic and offensive decision with any lawful means at his disposal.
“Litzmann added that had the mayor made a similar decision against Arabs, for example, it would have caused a public outcry, but he allows himself to act in a rude and racist manner against the Ultra-Orthodox.”