ARAB CABINET PICK STIRS 'ZIONISM-RACISM' DEBATE
Jerusalem - When Knesset member Esterina Tartman opened her mouth on Israel Radio last week to attack the Labor Party for naming Israel's first-ever Muslim Arab Cabinet minister, she did more than just rattle Ehud Olmert's shaky coalition. She opened up a raging national debate on the taboo topic of where Zionism ends and racism begins.
"What [Labor leader] Amir Peretz did this morning is to swing an enormous ax at the tree called Zionism," said Tartman, a member of the right-wing Yisrael Beitenu party, referring to Peretz's January 11 designation of Labor lawmaker Ghaleb Majadleh as minister of science, sports and culture. "We need to drive out and destroy this evil from our environs…. The State of Israel is a Jewish state that is supposed to be ruled by Jewish values, with a Jewish regime and Jewish sovereignty."
Tartman's comments sparked outrage across the political spectrum from politicians and commentators who called her views racist and compared them to the outlawed doctrines of the late Meir Kahane. "The Zionism of Herzl, Jabotinsky and Begin always advocated the integration of Arabs who are loyal to the state in all of its institutions," said Knesset member Michael Eitan of the opposition Likud party. Eitan demanded a formal Knesset debate on Tartman's "racist comments." "No believer in equality and democracy can accept them being on the agenda," Eitan said.