The Lehavim-Rahat station, located north of Beer Sheva, is meant to serve the 5,000 residents of the wealthy suburb of Lehavim and the 40,000 residents of Rahat and is part of recent efforts by Israel Railways to improve relations with the Arab sector in Israel.
Israel Railways General Manager Ofer Linchevsky met with Arab representatives three months ago to discuss with them ongoing and future railway projects to increase service to Arab communities.
The station in question is one of the foremost among such projects and, in this context, the railway's directorate decided to name the station Lehavim-Rahat, in order to emphasize its connection to both communities.
Sources from Israel Railways claimed Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz intervened to push through a change of the station's name to Lehavim, at the request of the suburb's mayor, Eli Levy.
Rahat mayor Talal al-Karnawi – who first heard of the change from Yedioth Ahronoth – was enraged and said his community would boycott Israel Railways.
"I am saddened that Israel Railways and the Transportation Ministry changed the name of the station. It is proof that Israel Railways is boycotting the Bedouin villages in the Negev.
"The route of the train shows discrimination and racism on the part of decision-makers," he said, stating that on the Ashdod-Arad line there is not a single stop in a Bedouin village.
"Rahat is the second largest Arab community in Israel and it doesn't receive one percent of the attention that a (Jewish) community of 5,000 residents received. We will boycott this train station."
Levy, affiliated with Kadima, denied any connection with the issue. "Nonetheless," he said, "I think that the change is a correct one, since the station lies within Lehavim's jurisdiction and all the coordination involved in building it went through our local council."
The Transportation Ministry's spokesperson said that the change was "a result of professional considerations, since the station lies within the municipal property of Lehavim.
"Any attempt to attach political or other unprofessional motivations to this decision is simply unsubstantiated."
Ronen Tal contributed to this report