Discrimination against Arabs part of Israel’s DNA

Zvi Bar’el in Haaretz:

The Soho restaurant in Rishon Letzion apparently refused an Israeli couple’s request for a reservation. Landlords deny requests from Arab citizens to rent their apartments. Businesses look for excuses to fob off Israeli applicants who seek employment, and residential communities make sure that only certain Israelis can live there.

There is nothing unusual about this. Even the excuses make sense. The restaurant is full, the apartment has been promised to someone else and the employer prefers someone with slightly different qualifications. How can anyone complain about explanations like these?

Suddenly, or maybe not so suddenly, these rejections have a common denominator. The people who were rejected suffer from a serious handicap. They are Israelis who don’t have Jewish names.

Their name is Mahmoud or Sama, Khaled or Fatima. Their affliction is too hard to bear. They are Arabs. They might spoil the appetites of the diners lucky enough to have the right name: Tamir or Anat. They will frighten the neighbors named Tseela or Avimelech. They might interfere at the plant where Sasha and Olga work. Oops. Those aren’t Jewish names either, but each of them is “one of us.”

The Soho restaurant that, according to the recordings, refused to take a reservation for Mahmoud and Sama Safouri from Jaffa didn’t do anything out of the ordinary. It only wanted to stay in business. And a good business better not host, hire or rent to an Israeli who insists on introducing himself by his real name and speaks Arabic rather than Hebrew, English or Russian.

What disaster would befall an Arab if he introduced himself as Moshe and not Moussa, Shlomo and not Suleiman? Even the Soho restaurant has no problem with Mr. and Mrs. Safouri – it’s only their weird name that’s disturbing. Ask hundreds of restaurants in Israel that hire, with no discrimination, Arab waiters, cooks and even hosts – they only have to change their names.

There can be no excuse for this disgrace. Formally, Israel boasts a legal system free of discrimination; one that is blind to a citizen’s race, color or sex. But this legal system is cut off from the reality, a handsome show window that hides an impenetrable wall of racism.

It isn’t – heaven forbid – that we think it’s okay to discriminate against Arabs. After all, they are also human beings. But still, nu, you understand, they have so many restaurants of their own.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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