JERUSALEM (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