Arab employees at an Israeli cafe have been banned from speaking their own language at work. Café Café, the country’s largest coffee shop chain with 150 branches, claimed that Jewish customers found the use of Arabic threatening.
One employee, Dona, in the Haifa branch of Café Café has said she will defy the ban and continue to speak her native tongue. She suggested that “if I am with an Arab coworker it doesn’t make any sense for us to speak in another language,” Haaretz reported.
She added that “I don’t think Arabic is a language that threatens anyone”.
It has been widely reported that the reason for the ban was a misunderstanding when a Jewish Israeli man thought that two employees were talking about him. However, the chain said in a statement that“this branch, which employs Jews and Arabs together, reflects true coexistence, and the only language common to all employees of the branch is Hebrew,” according to the Jerusalem Post.
Sawsan Zaher, a lawyer requested by staff to investigate the legality of the request, has called it “patently illegal”. Arabic is one of the two official languages of Israel, where Arabs make up a fifth of the population.
Zaher added that the employer’s threat that anyone who did not comply with the ban should resign was clearly a breach of the law, as it meant workers were being employed under threat of dismissal.
A sit-in was held against the policy on Tuesday night at the branch in Haifa, which has a diverse religious and ethnic population. The protesters held a bilingual storytelling session, and a meeting exclusively in Arabic.
Comments were divided on social media over the ban:
This is not the first time the company has been accused of illegal discrimination against Arab employees. In 2015 Omri Kis won a lawsuit for NIS 30,000 against a Tel Aviv branch after he claimed that the chain refused to employ him due to his race, as that particular franchise was kosher.