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Restaurant attacked for barring armed Israeli soldier

Restaurant attacked for barring armed Israeli soldier
Jonathan Cook, The Electronic Intifada, 26 March 2010

A controversy over a restaurant owner denying service to an armed, uniformed Israeli soldier is tarnishing Haifa's reputation as a model of coexistence. (Iyad Atayat/MaanImages)

An Arab-owned restaurant in the Israeli city of Haifa has been caught in a whirlwind of legal action and threats of violence after staff refused to serve a soldier in uniform, an incident that is rapidly tarnishing the city's reputation as a model of good Jewish-Arabs relations.

The soldier, Raviv Roth, has launched a damages claim for $16,000 over his treatment at Azad, a restaurant located in a bohemian neighborhood of the northern port city.

Roth's lawyer alleges that the restaurant broke anti-discrimination laws and humiliated the soldier, while Azad's owner says he only wants to ensure a relaxed and non-partisan atmosphere for all his customers.

Since the incident occurred late last month, soldiers and right-wing students have staged a large demonstration outside Azad demanding a boycott of the restaurant, and Azad's staff have received dozens of calls threatening to kill them or burn the premises down.

A Facebook group demanding Azad's closure has attracted tens of thousands of supporters. The local municipality has launched its own legal action to close the restaurant, arguing it has violated licensing conditions in refusing to serve the soldier.

"I can't believe what's been happening," said Anas Deeb, Azad's owner. "The soldier and municipality have been waging a vendetta campaign against me ever since they learned we have a dress code that does not allow uniforms. Our policy is not 'against' the army -- it covers every uniform, even the boy scouts.

"Everyone is talking as if we refused to serve the soldier, but that's not true. He was told he was welcome here any time but only if he first changed out of his army uniform."

One in 10 residents of Haifa, the third-largest city in Israel with a population of 270,000, is Arab. The city is often cited as a unique example in Israel of a multicultural community that has sought to integrate, rather than marginalize, its Arab population.

But the rapid escalation of tensions over the Azad incident risks creating a deep ethnic fissure, as has occurred in other mixed cities in Israel. In Acre, 20 kilometers up the coast, ethnic strains led in late 2008 to clashes between groups of Arab and Jewish youths. Several Arab families were chased out of mixed neighborhoods and had their homes set on fire.

Orna Sasson-Levy, a sociologist at Bar Ilan University, near Tel Aviv, said the Haifa restaurant had violated one of Israel's "great taboos" in refusing to welcome a soldier.

"The army is the symbol of the Israeli nation," she said. "Although it is okay not to serve in the army -- and many Jews don't -- it is definitely not okay to show that you are in any way against the army."

In Israel, where most of the secular Jewish population is conscripted for three years and many men continue to do annual reserve duty until their 40s, soldiers expect to be treated as heroes.

Buses give soldiers discounted tickets, those who have served in the army are entitled to lower tax rates, cheap mortgages and preferential rights to buy land, and employers often specify that only former soldiers will be considered for jobs.

Almost all of Israel's Arab citizens, who comprise a fifth of the country's population, are exempted from the army and do not receive such benefits.

Deeb, 30, said he established his restaurant -- whose Arabic name means "Free man" -- to offer a space where the city's Jews and Arabs could "mix as equals and without intimidation."

"Haifa is famous for being a multicultural city," he said. "Many of my clients are Jews, so this case has nothing to do with discrimination. All I want is peaceful dialogue.

"Places all over the world have dress codes, including requirements to wear a tie or a jacket, and no one makes any fuss. Why is an army uniform any different?"

Roth's lawyer, Pinhas Weller, said Deeb must pay compensation to the 23-year-old soldier or he would be sued in the courts. Roth, he said, had been told not talk to the media by the army.

Weller added that the refusal to allow the soldier entry to Azad was no less discriminatory than refusing to serve someone because of his skin color or his religion.

"In Israel, most people at some stage in their life wear a military uniform and the army is seen as protecting our way of life," he said. "If you refuse to serve someone in the army, it says something about your attitude to the country."

Similar sentiments were expressed at a demonstration outside Azad this month. Police had to stop protesters breaking into the restaurant as they waved Israeli flags and held banners saying "Don't discriminate against soldiers" and "Soldiers keep us safe."

One man was filmed shouting at customers and staff inside: "Until you're shut down, we won't leave this spot and we'll give you trouble. The soldiers protect you and me too. It's because of them that you exist ... All of Israel, all businesses, will welcome the army and those in uniform with respect."

However, human rights lawyers say the restaurant has broken no laws. Anti-discrimination legislation, introduced in 2000, covers race, religious affiliation, nationality and sexual orientation, but not military service.

Sawsan Zaher, of the Haifa-based Adalah legal center for the Arab minority, said the involvement of the municipality was of particular concern.

"We regard this as a case of harassment by city officials," said Zaher. "In arguing that the restaurant should have its license revoked because it discriminated against the soldier, the municipality is including a licensing criterion that is not authorized by the law."

But Reshev Cheyne, the City Attorney, maintained that barring a soldier in uniform did constitute discrimination and was not a justifiable dress code. "Soldiers are obliged to dress the way they do. If you say no to the uniform, you're saying no to the soldier."

Jafar Farah, head of Mossawa, a Haifa-based advocacy group for the Arab minority, said his organization had been monitoring a growing number of cases in which public places in Haifa refused Arabs entry.

"There is a smell of hypocrisy in this case," he said. "Bars and discos in Haifa are turning away Arab customers but the municipality never seeks to prosecute them, even though it is clear that in these cases laws against discrimination are being broken."

Farah said the city's climate of coexistence was breaking down, partly as a result of an influx during the 1990s of right-wing immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Today, a quarter of Haifa's population is Russian-speaking.

The city's deputy mayor, Yulia Shtraim, a member of the far-right party of Israel's foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, which is popular with Russian speakers, made headlines during last year's local election when she barred Arab reporters, but not Jewish journalists, from party rallies.

"Unfortunately, the soldier in this case is being backed by far-right groups who want to present this incident as an example of Arab disloyalty to Israel," said Farah. "That is dangerous because it could play well in parts of Haifa where Lieberman's party has attracted voters with its slogan of "No citizenship without loyalty."

Two years ago, an Arab lecturer, Nizar Hassan, was suspended from his job at Sapir College in the Negev after he admonished a student who arrived at his class armed and in uniform. The college president threatened to dismiss Dr. Hassan if he did not apologize to the soldier and publicly express his "respect for the IDF [Israeli military] uniform."

An Arab professor at Haifa University was ejected from a city restaurant last year when he objected to a military-style T-shirt worn by a waiter that advocated the killing of Palestinian children.

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). His website is http://www.jkcook.net.

A version of this article originally appeared in The National, published in Abu Dhabi.


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Added: Mar-28-2010 
By: angloirishcad
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  • Electronic intifada is your source?

    Pallywood muslim jihadi propaganda

    Posted Mar-28-2010 By 

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    • ive never heard of this source.

      usually i dont tend to disqualify un familier sources but what is being reported here havnt been reported in not one single israeli news source,including not haaretz.

      the article is talking about a fuzz of tens of thousends of ppl and even the Haifa municiplity which decided to close the place (very strange since its not under the municipality autority to close a restaurant for not serving a costumer)

      all of this story here smells very fishy.

      Posted Mar-30-2010 By 

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  • "Almost all of Israel's Arab citizens, who comprise a fifth of the country's population, are exempted from the army and do not receive such benefits."
    ...
    "In Israel, most people at some stage in their life wear a military uniform and the army is seen as protecting our way of life," he said. "If you refuse to serve someone in the army, it says something about your attitude to the country."

    -maybe that attitude is created by an Army that refuses to allow a certain g More..

    Posted Mar-28-2010 By 

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  • the food sucks

    Posted Mar-28-2010 By 

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  • Interesting example of the increasing fanaticim in Israeli society

    Posted Mar-28-2010 By 

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  • ok- i made a litlle search down the internet and found the case- it heppened in the beggining of this month, while i was hospiteltized for one week due to very serious emonia. during this period of time i havnt had any clue of life outsides...

    i take back what i said regarding the validity of the post here, but what i said regarding to your agenda here still stands.

    Posted Mar-30-2010 By 

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    • I have an agenda, and will freely admit that.

      But I don't lie in my posts, and most of the sources are fine, as you just found out with this one. The fact that you automatically disbelieved it speaks volumes to me.

      It would be very hard for me to find 'good news' stories about Arabs and Jews right now, and even if I could I'm not sure it would be appropriate under the circumstances we're in, when there's so much suffering. What kind of person would be celebrating South Africa and Black/white r More..

      Posted Mar-30-2010 By 

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    • i read what you wrote here, and once more- i accept it and respect it, since you do explain yourself in profound manner.

      my probles was not with the case being brought to here (i myself tend to bring here also stories which certenly dont compliment Israel...) but with your first reply.

      but anyway- you explained yourself and i accept that.

      Posted Mar-30-2010 By 

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  • personaly i support the restaurant claim that their agenda is not to serve any person wearing uniforms, regardless if its army or soccer team.
    the question is do they really impose it or just dicrimenate soldiers.
    according to hebrew sources this heppened not only with this soldier but with many before him.

    anyway- the mayor of Haifa didnt demand to close the place. he got a letter from one of his aids to do so but he only replied that if it will be indeed proven that it was descriminatio More..

    Posted Mar-30-2010 By 

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