Zvi Barel
Haaretz (Opinion)
November 14, 2012 - 1:00am

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.

This is a reality based not on equality but rather lordly slogans like "without loyalty there is no citizenship." It rests on rabbinical rulings and toxic sermons against Arab citizens, like those by Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu of Safed against renting apartments to Arabs. This is a reality that applies "No Jews allowed" to Arab citizens.

Uprooting this evil cannot depend only on the complaints of a few courageous Arab citizens who have not yet despaired of demanding their rights, not only vis-a-vis the state but mainly vis-a-vis Jewish Israeli culture. The people and authorities must boycott businesses that have adopted racism as a norm. Or maybe we don't have to boycott. Maybe we can decide that every Jewish citizen who wants to make a reservation at a restaurant or hotel will adopt an Arab name. There's no need to try hard to be original; after all, all of them are Ahmeds or Mahmouds.

It would be interesting to know how a popular restaurant would react if one day it received reservations only by people with Arab names. How would hotel owners react if on a weekend the reservation list filled up with Ahmed and Fatima from Herzliya Pituah and Aziz and Rima from Israel Aerospace Industries, while rounding out the day with Gal and Erga from Umm al-Fahm?

Would they shut down the restaurant and close "for renovations," only so they wouldn't have to host Arabs? Don't worry. None of this is going to happen. No Jew is going to identify himself as an Arab, not even for two hours of pleasant dining at a restaurant.

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.


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