Issue of Soviet Aliyah Upsets Delicate Arab-jewish Relations

Some Israeli Arabs have added their voices to the growing chorus of protest in the Arab world against the large-scale immigration of Soviet Jews to Israel.

But the Israeli Arab community as a whole seems divided.

The most vocal opposition to the Soviet aliyah was sounded last week by Sheik Raed Salah Mahajneh, a Moslem fundamentalist who became mayor of the town of Umm el-Fahm after its longtime Communist administration was ousted in the 1988 elections.

Mahajneh spoke at a rally in Haifa on Feb. 26 protesting the lack of government funding for financially destitute Arab municipalities. Soft-spoken but resolute, he warned that the massive immigration of Jews from the Soviet Union would be at the expense of the local Arab population.

Mahajneh backed away from his anti-aliyah position Saturday, telling a joint meeting of Arab mayors and Knesset members that he had spoken in Haifa out of frustration. He said he has nothing against aliyah, but just wants badly needed funds for Arab municipalities.

But a left-wing extremist Arab group has taken a tougher approach. Abna el-Balad, which rejects Israel’s right to exist, has been trying to get 100,000 signatures on a petition to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.

It says, among other things, that “immigration endangers the jobs of Arabs in Israel and their lands, which will be confiscated for the use of the immigrants.”

So far, the petition drive has fallen short of its goal. But Knesset member Haggai Meirom of Labor calls it a “political petrol bomb” threatening Jewish-Arab coexistence in Galilee. He wants the police to take action against the group.

Abna el-Balad is a relatively marginal force in Israeli Arab society. But the issue is a highly sensitive one.

The influx of Soviet Jews calls attention to the Law of Return, which grants automatic citizenship to all Jews. At the same time, Palestinian demands for the right of return to homes in Israel they left in 1948 and 1967 are rejected as a threat to Israel’s very existence.

NEXT STORY