Posted November 15, 2016

“A Jewish customer of the popular Israeli cafe franchise believed that two Arab employees were speaking about the customer in Arabic.”

Kids from the Haifa Hand-in-Hand Arab-Jewish kindergarten hold a bilingual story hour in front of a Haifa restaurant, which told workers they cannot speak Arabic around Jewish customers.

Protesters staged a sit-in on Tuesday at a Haifa cafe that told Arab employees they cannot speak Arabic in certain situations, especially around non-Arab customers.

The policy arose after a Jewish customer of Café Café, said he thought two Arab employees were speaking about him in Arabic.

A waitress at the Dado Beach branch of the popular franchise said that a policy was implemented to forbid speaking Arabic at the restaurant, even with Arabic-speaking customers and in the predominately Arabstaffed kitchen. Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel – which is representing the Arab waitress, confirmed the waitress’s account and said she was told to resign if she did not accept the policy.

A statement provided to The Jerusalem Post by the Café Café group, which oversees the company’s more than 100 franchisees, confirmed that employees were told to discuss work matters in Hebrew. However, they contend that no directive was issued limiting the right of workers to converse in their mother tongue.

“This branch, which employs Jews and Arabs together, reflects true coexistence, and the only language common to all employees of the branch is Hebrew,” the statement said.

“The franchisee and the shift manager, who do not speak Arabic, asked that matters relating to the management of the restaurant and its current operations will be discussed in Hebrew, for the understanding of all employees.”

It is unclear how the policy is being implemented. According to Sawsan Zaher, a lawyer with Adalah, the waitress who filed the complaint was told on Tuesday not to speak Arabic to an Arabic-speaking dishwasher in the kitchen. “If there are Jewish customers, of course they will communicate in Hebrew. This is not a reasonable request of the employees, at least this prohibition should not apply between themselves or in the kitchen.”

Zaher, who sent a letter to Café Café on behalf of Arab employees, said the policy is illegal. “This decision is illegal based on the equal opportunities employment law,” she said.

“Employers are not allowed to discriminate based on race, religion, or nationality. Since language is a representative of national origin, it means he is discriminating against them because they are Arabs. When you deliver such a decision, you are basically humiliating the person, because you are saying that they are inferior and not welcomed.”

In response to the policy, protesters organized a bilingual story hour at the restaurant on Tuesday, attended by children from the local Hand-in-Hand Arab-Jewish kindergarten, and held an Arabic-speaking meeting afterwards.

“We want to delegitimize this action in public,” said protest organizer and Hadash Party secretary in Haifa, Raja Zaatry. Zaatry contends that Haifa, once lauded as a symbol of Arab-Jewish coexistence, is being affected by anti-Arab sentiment. “We’ve heard about this phenomenon in other places, but if it is reaching Haifa, that means the situation is becoming very bad, because it is known as a city of coexistence between Arabs and Jews,” he remarked.
“We must examine what the official response is from the cafe, if they will withdraw [the policy] or compromise,” said Zaher. “If they will continue with this kind of a policy and insist to implement it, there will be no other option but to go to court.”

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