Israeli Telecom Giant Appealed for Jewish-Arab Solidarity. It Didn't End Well

Right-wing Israeli politicians called on supporters to disconnect from Cellcom, with the company's stock dropping 2 percent on Tuesday after the hour-long strike

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Cellcom's strike announcement posted online
Cellcom's strike announcement posted online

Several organizations on the Israeli right are boycotting telecom giant Cellcom after the company’s workers' committee announced a one-hour strike on Tuesday to call for coexistence between Jews and Arabs.

The strike, which comes amidst some of the worst internecine fighting in years, coincided with a general strike called by the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, which urged Arab Israelis to protest against “attacks on Palestinians in Jerusalem, Sheikh Jarrah and the al-Aqsa Mosque” as well as “attacks on the Arab public in general and mixed cities in particular.”

The strike was widely observed, with government offices in Arab towns shuttered, schools closed and stores across the country and the West Bank ceasing to do business. 

At the same time, both Hamas and Fatah issued separate calls for a "Day of Rage" in the West Bank and the Golan Heights, with Hamas calling it “the only way to stop Israeli attacks and bring an end to the crimes against the Palestinian people.”

Three Palestinians were killed and least 182 wounded in clashes across the West Bank on Tuesday. Two Israeli soldiers were also injured.

Monday’s strike at Cellcom came in response to ongoing violence between Arabs and Jews in Israel over the course of the past few weeks, leading to several deaths and hundreds of injuries. The fighting escalated sharply after the beginning of the latest round of fighting between Israel and Hamas last Monday. Jewish and Arab mobs have rampaged through mixed cities, beating people and destroying property.

In a post on its Facebook page on Monday evening, Cellcom’s workers committee said it was holding the work stoppage in support of unity, coexistence and “unconditional love,” asserting that “what we do today will determine our reality for tomorrow.”

“Let's live together and in peace,” the committee declared.

Cellcom's strike was not well-received on the right, which conflated it with the general strike and interpreted it as a gesture of solidarity with opponents of Israel’s ongoing military operations in the Gaza Strip aimed at stopping Hamas rocket fire on Israeli cities.

A Cellcom store in Tel Aviv, in 2016 Credit: BAZ RATNER / REUTERS

“This is a shame and a disgrace, Cellcom. Instead of of identifying with and supporting the residents of the south and IDF soldiers, you decided to support a strike that is about what, about riots against the Jews?! Shame on you,” chided Likud MK Ofir Sofer.

“Cellcom has disconnected from the Israeli people. The Jewish people are disconnecting from Cellcom,” tweeted far-right lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich.

“Disconnect from Cellcom. Now,” declared Smotrich ally MK Itamar Ben-Gvir, leader of the Kahanist Otzma Yehudit party. “Anyone who expresses sympathy for terrorism and strikes does not deserve our custom.”

Likud activists on WhatsApp called for all party supporters to stop using Cellcom and even described the company and its staff as "terrorist supporters.” Several organizations representing settlers in the West Bank, including the Gush Etzion, Binyamin and Shomron Regional Councils, announced boycotts of the cellular provider.

The religious-Zionist Bnei Akiva youth movement announced that its national school network would also boycott the company, announcing that it was looking for a replacement which would “hopefully be more Zionist and value-based.”

“If you are hurt by their support for terror, you may want to switch to another company,” the group’s CEO said in a statement.

"Cellcom is an Israeli company that serves all residents of the country in times of calm and especially in times of emergency, such as the difficult days in which we find ourselves,” the company said in a statement responding to the criticism.

Declaring that it supported the IDF and the defense establishment, as well as residents of the south suffering under “abominable missile attacks,” the company stressed that its initiative was strictly a “call for coexistence” and had “no connection” with the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee strike.

“In retrospect, the timing was wrong” Cellcom said.

While Cellcom’s stock fell by 2 percent in trading on Tuesday and thousands of Israelis are reportedly cancelling their phone plans in response to the controversy, the company has received strong public support from Arab-Israelis and the left.

“I heard settlers are disconnecting from Cellcom. I never thought I would be so jealous of a cellular company,” tweeted Joint List chairman MK Ayman Odeh.

“The people of Israel are already disengaging from you, your partners and your racism,” Labor MK Gilad Kariv tweeted at Smotrich in response to his boycott call. “Most Israeli citizens are interested in coexistence between Jews and Arabs.”

Jack Khoury contributed to this report.

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