Arab Israeli Sues Cafe That Fired Him for 'Not Being Jewish'

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An Arab man from central Israel has sued the Tel Aviv Port branch of Cafe Cafe for NIS 100,000, after he was told on his first day of work as a waiter that the cafe could not continue to employ him because he isn't Jewish.

"In this case the plaintiff was hired and fired within a day, when his employer found out that he was an Arab," said Mali Wroclawski, a lawyer at the legal assistance division of the Justice Ministry in the Tel Aviv area. “This is unacceptable and insulting behavior that should be publicly and legally condemned. Let us hope that filing the lawsuit will at least partly correct the injustice inflicted on the appellant, perhaps also contributing to public awareness in combating workplace discrimination in general, particularly when it is based on one’s origins.”

The complainant, identified only as G., recorded the branch manager telling him that the rabbinate had told him he was not allowed to hire non-Jews because the cafe was kosher. The Tel Aviv rabbinate said this was not the case.

“The cafe acted in a stereotypical manner while discriminating against the plaintiff, unlawfully using its kashrut certification to justify the illegal discrimination it committed,” charges the lawsuit, which was filed two weeks ago in labor court by Oren Ran from the Justice Ministry's division of legal assistance.

According to the lawsuit, five-and-a-half hours into G.'s first day as a trainee waiter, the manager asked him what community he belonged to. G. said he was Arab, and recorded the ensuing conversation on his cell phone.

“It’s best to avoid unpleasant situations, isn’t it?” the manager said. “I understand you. We’re friends, but I’ll explain something. Listen. All my life I’ve employed Arab workers. The problem is that this place is strictly kosher. The rabbinate prohibited me from employing any Arabs in the kitchen. This includes waiters as well. I’ve just spoken to the owner who will ask at the rabbinate, at the supervisor’s office, if I can employ you. I’ve always been told that I can’t employ a non-Jew.”

The manager offered to help G. find other employment in the port area. “I told the owner to talk to the kashrut supervisor," he said. "I told him that I really want you because you’re a great guy. If he can’t get approval, I’ll get you into another restaurant nearby.”

G. went to the Justice Ministry, which asked the cafe for a response.

The cafe said the incident was an invention of G.'s “feverish mind.” Royi Tibi, a lawyer representing the cafe, accused G. of making libelous claims.

He said the manager knew that G. was Arab when he first hired him, after he answered a help wanted ad on the cafe's door the day before. Tibi said the cafe has other Arab employees but did not want to keep G. on because he was found to be unsuitable. “That’s the purpose of the training period,” said Tibi.

Yuval Etzioni, another lawyer representing the cafe, said the complainant was at fault, for acting "from impure motives by recording his employer a few hours after starting work, trying to build a case so that he could collect compensation, which, as it will turn out, he will not get.”

Other Israelis suing over discrimination have received tens of thousands of shekels in compensation. An Ethiopian man received NIS 95,000 in an employment discrimination suit, and a Mizrahi man was awarded NIS 50,000.

The Tel Aviv rabbinate said it has "never prohibited the employment of non-Jews."

"According to Jewish law and directives issued by the rabbinate, some operations, such as lighting a fire in the kitchen, can only be performed by a Jewish employee or by the kashrut supervisor," the rabbinate said in a statement. "We are sorry that a cynical and unseemly abuse of the rabbinate was carried out. Hundreds of restaurants throughout the city that are under rabbinical supervision employ non-Jews. There is no reason not to employ this particular person.”

Representatives of the Café Café chain said only the Tel Aviv Port branch is being sued, adding that "the chain works through independent franchises that need to follow the law.”

The coastline of Tel Aviv and Jaffa can be seen from the docks of the old port.Credit: Jacob Solomon

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