JAFFA BY THE SEA. ‘No difference between Jews and Arabs.’.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
While the decision of the Joint List to boycott US Vice President Mike Pence’s Knesset speech scheduled for Tuesday was denounced as a “disgrace” by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Arab customers at a cafe in Jaffa said it is Pence and US President Donald Trump who are disgraceful.
“We don’t need guests like him and his boss,” said a bespectacled man in his seventies who declined to give his name on the grounds that “I’m afraid Trump will push the big button against me.”
“Of course I agree with the decision to boycott,” he said. ”The American government has no right to talk about our affairs. The US should be ashamed of what it is doing.”
Like Israeli-Arab leaders and their Palestinian Authority counterparts in Ramallah, the elderly man was angered by the Trump-Pence administration recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. “I want real peace,” he said. “What peace will Pence talk about? They are against anything that has to do with peace.”
The endorsement the administration gives to Israeli policies could lead to the Palestinians being displaced for a second time, he said, adding: “They could throw away one of the weakest peoples on earth from their own homes. Are they out of their minds?” Another customer, a law student who gave only his first name, Nasim, said he was extremely worried about the combination of the Trump administration in Washington and the Netanyahu government in Jerusalem. “This visit will give Netanyahu the feeling he can do whatever he wants,” he said, “and this is really bad because Netanyahu doesn’t put any restraints on his right wing.”
He voiced concern that with the government’s perception that it has unlimited American backing, the Jewish nationalist character of the state will become more pronounced at the expense of democracy and the Arab citizens. “I’m already left out of the Israeli hegemony,” he said. “But if this keeps up, I’ll be left out of everything. The nationalists see me as an enemy. The religious see me as a dirty goy. Trump is encouraging this. The extremists are strengthening each other.”
“There is a difference with Trump and Pence,” Nasim said. “The nationalists in Israel used to be more subtle about their racism. Now they are more outspoken. They feel free to speak and push their agenda.” As an example, he cited calls from within the Jewish Home party for “voluntary transfer” of Arabs.
He said the Jerusalem declaration had encouraged Likud politicians to back annexing the West Bank.
“If there was even the slightest chance of peace there is none now,” Nasim said.
Another café-goer was blunter than Nasim: “This visit will lead to more fascism. Israel was never a democracy but now it’s out in the open.”
“The real problem isn’t Trump; it’s the Arab regimes that gave the green light to Trump,” he said, adding that Saudi Arabia and Egypt had gone along with Trump’s Jerusalem move.
Pence’s visit was welcomed, however, by Jewish Israelis working in nearby stores. “It’s good he is coming so he can see what it’s like here,” said Yossi Dayan, who works in a fast-food restaurant. He praised Trump’s Jerusalem declaration, adding: “What needs to be done is to make order out of the Palestinian leadership. They need a good leader who wants peace.”
“The Arabs of Jaffa live well, not like those in Gaza,” Dayan said. “This is because they are under a Jewish government. In Gaza, their leaders don’t care about them.”
Restaurant owner Yisrael Ifrach praised the Trump administration. “Of course the Palestinians were upset about the Trump declaration,” he said. “The truth is painful. We have very strong relations with the US and I hope they will always continue to be strong. The Palestinians are making a big mistake boycotting Pence and this will have bad consequences for the Palestinian people.”
Joint List MK Yousef Jabareen defended the boycott decision, saying: “We can’t be part of this festival planned in the Knesset and we are protesting the Trump declaration which very much hurt the peace process and perpetuates the bloodshed and conflict in our area. The Trump-Pence decision goes against international law and consensus about Jerusalem.”
Netanyahu said the boycott is a “disgrace,” adding that “we will all be there and give the vice president the honor due to him.”