January 13, 2011 - 1:00am

Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog [Labor] on Thursday compared the recent outbreak of racial tensions across Israel to Alabama in the 1940s and urged President Shimon Peres to intervene and prevent the deterioration of Israeli democracy.

"Shimon Peres must use his public consensus to be a leader in this struggle," Herzog told an annual conference for the Conservative Movement, citing the rise in anti-Arab and migrant demonstrations and oppression of human rights organizations.

Several incidents of discrimination in Israel have garnered worldwide attention as of late, among them rabbis outlawing the rental of homes to Arab citizens and a recent Knesset initiative supporting a panel of inquiry into organizations that purportedly delegitimize the Israel Defense Forces.

Herzog told members of the audience that believes a call against racism from Peres would inpire even the most disconnected of citizens, including in his words the ultraOrthodox, to "join together for the future of Israeli democracy, for pluralism, and for freedom of opinion."

Other incidents that have drawn widespread calls of discrimination in Israel in the past few months include protests in south Tel Aviv calling for the expulsion of foreign workers from the neighborhood and a letter signed by rabbis' wives urging Jewish women to refrain from dating non-Jews.

"For your sake, for the sake of future generations, and so you don't undergo horrible suffering, we turn to you with a request, a plea, a prayer. Don't date non-Jews, don't work at places that non-Jews frequent, and don't do national service with non-Jews," that letter read.

The letter was organized by the organization Lehava, which claims to "save daughters of Israel" from what it calls assimilation. Lehava also took part in the recent demonstrations against selling or renting homes to non-Jews.


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