In poor taste? Burger joint owner proudly hires 'Jewish workers only'

"This is my business... so I'll do whatever I want," says owner.

By RORY KRESS
October 1, 2007 23:57
3 minute read.
In poor taste? Burger joint owner proudly hires 'Jewish workers only'

burger deli ad . (photo credit: )

 
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A Jerusalem-based burger joint has come under heavy criticism for advertising in an English-language haredi newspaper that it employs "Jewish workers only." Burger Deli's ad in The Shiur Times was first uncovered last month by the RamFM radio station, which broadcasts out of Jerusalem and Ramallah. The restaurant's owner, who requested to be identified as "Avraham," told The Jerusalem Post that he had been praised for hiring only Jewish workers. "This is my business... so I'll do whatever I want," he said, adding that he did not plan to pull the ad any time soon. Selective hiring is illegal in Israel and is classified as racism under the Act of Equality in Employment. The law also forbids racially-based business promotion. However, these practices are alive and well, explained Kav L'Oved director Hanna Zohar. "[The Burger Deli case] is racism," said Zohar, whose organization pressures the government to enforce basic workers' rights. "It's very difficult for Israeli Arabs to get jobs even when they are skilled. If they do get jobs, they usually receive lower pay," she said. The director of the Human Rights Center at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Yuval Elbashan, agreed. "In Jerusalem [discriminatory hiring] is quite common. It's now become the fashion [and a] syndrome," he said. Despite the controversy surrounding the ad, National Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said no one had thus far filed an official complaint with the police. Even if a complaint had been made, Mossawa - the Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens - told the Post, the Israeli legal system engages in serious foot-dragging on such cases. And, according to Elbashan, cases such as that of Burger Deli are the most difficult to prove: "[Employers] can always say they employed an applicant based on 'chemistry' or talent." Avraham, however, believes that he is protecting himself. "Have you had anyone run after you with a knife to kill you just because you're Jewish? I've had that twice in the kitchen, just because I'm Jewish," fumes Avraham. Avraham, a Moroccan immigrant, ran restaurants while living in the United States before making aliya. Avraham feels that the anti-Semitism he has experienced is something that allows him to hire only those of his own kind. "Six million of my brothers died 50 years ago because they were Jewish, but they want me to have pity and all that. My country is a Jewish country and not a Muslim country... [Non-Jews] discriminate against us if our name is Sarah or Avraham," he said. Zohar, however, qualifies Avraham's defense as "a very weak accusation... that would mean that every non-Jew is a danger," she argued. In an interview with RamFM, Avraham said he refused to hire non-Jews for fear of scaring off his predominately haredi clientele or losing his kashrut certification. But Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, head of Petah Tikva's hesder yeshiva, said non-Jewish workers pose no threat to a restaurant's kashrut. "There are ways that halacha permits food to be prepared as kosher by non-Jews," he said. When examining Avraham's practices according to halacha, Cherlow said Jews, as a result of the discrimination they have suffered, should know better than to perpetrate such actions against others. "The Torah says that because we were slaves in Egypt ... there are all kinds of moral behaviors we have to adopt ... So if we translate this to the 21st century, our behavior should not follow or adopt that of the Nazis - we should be positive," Cherlow explained. "I think moral demands come first: Even if you are losing money or business, you should still be moral," he said. The Jerusalem Rabbinate said it was unable to supply the Post with a response without several days of halachic research. Shelly Paz contributed to this report.

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