Israeli amusement park rejects segregation claims

JERUSALEM (AP) - A popular Israeli amusement park has come under criticism for the appearance of discrimination and denied on Friday that it had segregated between Jews and Arabs, insisting it remains open to all.

The Superland park near Tel Aviv came under fire after reports emerged this week that it designated separate visiting times for groups of Jewish and Arab children. The reports sparked outrage and touched on the already sensitive relations between the country's Jews and Arab.

Several Israeli officials lashed out at the park, with one even calling for it to be shut down, and the country's attorney general was asked to look into the matter. Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said he was "shocked and embarrassed" about the incident.

The park said it had merely sought to accommodate requests from certain Jewish and Arab schools who wanted to hold separate end-of-school events at the park and that while it may have erred in judgment, it did not act out of malice.

The park said it would appeal to the Education Ministry for guidelines in such cases in the future.

"There has never been, isn't and never will be expressions of racism at the Superland," a statement from the park said. "We apologize before Jews and Arabs who were offended by the Superland's agreement to the schools' requests and will act to implement guidelines on this issue on a national level."

Arabs make up about 20 percent of Israel's 8 million residents and often complain of being treated as second-class citizens. Some Israeli Jews consider the minority to be disloyal for sympathizing with the country's enemies.

The amusement park uproar comes just days after a hawkish Israeli lawmaker submitted a controversial bill that would prioritize Judaism over democracy in matters of religion and state in Israel, a move widely perceived to be a swipe at Arabs.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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