Hundreds of people attended an anti-racism demonstration in front of the Galina nightclub in the Tel Aviv port on Wednesday evening.
The crowd called for the club to be closed down to set an example for all the places that employed selection processes for entry and habitually turned away people with dark skin.
The demonstration was organized by Motti Wadja and Aryeh Schwartz, two friends who decided to take on the long-lamented practice following an incident that took place at the Galina three weeks ago.
Wadja, who is of Ethiopian descent, related the incident at Wednesday's demonstration before a crowd of roughly 200 people. The demonstration was made up of people of all skin colors, from dark-skinned Ethiopians like Wadja, to white Ashkenazis like Schwartz.
They stood meters away from the entrance to the Galina, shouting, "Stop racism!" and called for the closure of the establishment and a consumer boycott on all places that engage in selection.
Wadja said that on the night of the incident, he had been told by the club's hostess that he couldn't enter the trendy club because he didn't have an invitation. He said he realized it was only an excuse, because his fair-skinned friends, who didn't have invitations, either, were admitted without trouble, and because while he stood in line waiting, he saw others go in, also without showing invitations.
"I was dressed like everyone else, I looked like everyone else. There was no reason not to let me in," said Wadja.
Wadja used his cellphone to call Schwartz, who was already inside, and asked him to come out and help him gain admission. When asked, the hostess agreed to let Schwartz bring in a friend until she realized that his friend was the dark-skinned Wadja.
"At that moment, when they let Aryeh in and left me outside, I understood that my skin color played a part and that I wouldn't be allowed in because I am an Ethiopian, because I'm black," said Wadja.
What followed was an argument with the hostess and the doorman that ended with Schwartz receiving a blow to the face from the latter, and a trip to the hospital.
"It was in the ambulance on the way to the hospital that we decided to take on the ugly phenomenon and put and end to nightclub selection once and for all," said Schwartz.
Aside from pressing legal charges against the club for racial discrimination and assault, the two decided to make their case public.
With the help of a public relations firm, Wadja and Schwartz managed to rally a large following for their cause. The support of MKs Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) and Yoel Hasson (Kadima) ensured that the media, too, would take an interest.
Yacimovich spoke out against the commonplace practice of employing "selectors" at nightclub entrances and against the loophole in the law that protects the offenders. While the law prohibits the establishments from barring entrance outright, there is nothing to stop them from making people wait in line until they give up and go away of their own accord.
"We must do away with this humiliating practice whereby one person waits in line for hours, while lighter-skinned people enter without worry," said Yacimovich. She also vowed to take the issue up in the Knesset and try to pass a law that would make it mandatory for establishments to admit people on a first come, first served basis.
"Motti and Aryeh, you are truly great men," said Hasson. "You took it upon yourselves to take on a battle that many have tried to fight before. As you can see, I am also not so white, and I remember, when I was younger, that I experienced discrimination, too. I experienced that terrible word, 'selection.' I now know that any place that wouldn't admit me because of my [skin] color was not worthy of my being there."
Also present were officers from the IDF's elite Sayeret Matkal unit, in which Wadja serves. The officers put aside the low-profile demeanor that usually characterizes soldiers in the military's top special-forces unit, and spoke out on behalf of their comrade. They said they were proud to fight alongside Wadja and were ashamed to be part of a society that accepted de facto racial discrimination on a daily basis.
They called on Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai to close down the club and pass a bylaw that would make racist selection practices impossible.
Later in the evening, a spokesman for the nightclub came out to release a statement to the press.
"The owners of the Galina reject outright the accusations of racism. The unfortunate incident was a result of the stringent security practices of the establishment that aim to protect the guests in a time so plagued by violence," he said.
"Despite that, the Galina promises to reassess its policy. The Galina's owners embrace Mr. Wadja and Mr. Schwartz and feel their pain following the unfortunate incident. They are also prepared to take an active role in the battle against racism."
The spokesman added that "the owners wish to say that though they are the scapegoat in this particular incident, they are pleased that the incident raised the painful issue to the public agenda and are full of hope that it will help bring about a solution to the painful phenomenon."
Earlier in the week a district court judge ordered the owners of the Donna Martin nightclub, also in Tel Aviv, to pay NIS 60,000 in damages to two men of Yemenite descent who were turned away by the club's selector. In his statement, the judge said that the phenomenon of selection was a national outrage that should be done away with immediately.