At least four Israeli cities, including the commercial capital Tel Aviv, have temporarily banned Arab laborers from working in their schools as they struggle to calm public fears fueled by the worst surge of Palestinian street attacks in years.
Israel's cabinet also imposed more security measures on Sunday after further Palestinian stabbings this weekend, widening police stop-and-frisk powers that will effectively allow them to search anyone on the street.
The Joint Arab List called the municipalities' edicts "racist".
The Interior Ministry, which oversees the municipalities, said it appealed to "all mayors to continue to act with respect and equality towards all their workers, irrespective of religion, ethnicity or gender". It did not ask them to repeal the restrictions.
Citing security concerns, Tel Aviv and the nearby cities of Rehovot and Hod Hasharon avoided using the word "Arab" in announcing on their websites and emails to residents that maintenance workers and cleaners - many of whom are Arabs - would not be allowed into schools.
Another city, Modiin-Maccabim-Reut, midway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, said "minority members" - a term Jews in Israel often use for Arab citizens who make up 20 percent of the population of eight million - would be banned from working in its schools.
Dov Khenin, a legislator from the Joint Arab List, the largest Arab party, said on Israel Radio that "under cover of anxiety, dangerous measures of racist exclusion are being advanced".
Spokesmen for Tel Aviv and Rehovot said Jews as well as Arabs would be covered by the temporary ban.
"Owing to the sensitive situation, the municipality of Tel Aviv-Jaffa will not permit the entry of construction workers and laborers - Jews and Arabs alike - to educational institutions for on-going work," city spokeswoman Gali Avni-Orenstein said in an email to Reuters.
But Doron Milberg, director-general of the municipality of Rehovot, which said its own ban on laborers also applied to Jews, acknowledged that Arabs would be most affected by the decision because "those who work in construction ... are the minorities".