Top Menu

Safed: Racism and Violence against Palestinians; What if they Were Muslim?


Safed, a town that before the creation of Israel used to be a mixed majority Arab and minority Jewish neighborhood has become the scene of Orthodox Jews attacking Palestinian students claiming that they are undermining the Jewish character of Safed. Imagine if they were Muslims who were attacking Jews or Christians because they were “undermining the Muslim character” of a city?

Allegations of racism and questions about a town’s character

By Joel Greenberg

(Washington Post)

In the winding stone alleys of this Galilee hill town, a centuries-old center of Jewish mysticism, a campaign is underway.

It is being waged by the town rabbi, Shmuel Eliahu, who along with other area rabbis issued a religious ruling several months ago forbidding residents to rent apartments to Israeli Arab students from the local community college.

The rabbi has warned that the Jewish character of Safed, long revered as sacred, is at risk and that intermarriages could follow if the students mingle with the locals.

Last month, Eliahu called a public meeting to sound the alarm. On the agenda was “the quiet war,” a reference to the feared Arab influx, and “fighting assimilation in the holy city of Safed.”

Several days later, a building that houses Arab students was attacked by a group of young Jews, and an elderly Holocaust survivor renting a room to students received threats.

To civil rights advocates and other critics, the unsettling developments in this normally quiet community of 32,000 are a window into ugly currents of racism in Israeli society. The events here, the critics say, reflect a general atmosphere of growing intolerance under a government and parliament dominated by parties of the nationalist right.

Hagai El-Ad, executive director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said that public attitudes have been legitimized by proposals in parliament that send a message of exclusion to Israeli Arabs. One bill authorizes rural Jewish communities to review applications for residence on the basis of social and cultural compatibility, language that critics say is code for keeping out Arabs.

But people in Safed dismiss the accusations of racism, saying that the issue is a culture clash between rowdy Arab students and the city’s strictly religious Jews who feel that their way of life is being threatened.

In a city park next to a college building on a recent afternoon, “Death to Arabs” was scrawled on a gatepost. The park is a hangout for the Arab students, who were scattered on benches during a break between classes.

Nasrat Ghadban, a student from the village of Arrabeh, said that he had been trying to find an apartment to rent in Safed but that his phone inquiries were repeatedly turned down.

Similar accounts were heard from other Arab students, who make up about half of the student population at the school, the Tzfat Academic College. Because of a shortage of dormitory space, many Arab students commute from their villages. Some who have found apartments in Safed said they have recently felt uneasy walking the streets and preferred to stay in at night, fearing run-ins with religious Jewish youths.

Last month, a group of young Jewish men attacked apartments of Arab students near the old city of Safed. An indictment against two of the assailants said that before the attack, the group had talked about an increasing presence of Arabs in town and their alleged harassment of local Jewish women.

The mob gathered outside a building housing Arab students, shouted “Death to Arabs!” and “Stinking Muslims!” and hurled stones and bottles, smashing a window, according to the indictment. The Arab students threw stones back, and a shot was fired by one of the Jewish youth. He and the other indicted youth were charged with racist incitement, rioting and vandalism.

Eliahu Zvieli, an 89-year-old resident of the old city who rents a room to three Arab students, said he had received numerous phone calls and visits, including from Rabbi Eliahu, urging him to remove his tenants. One caller threatened to burn down Zvieli’s house, he said. A sign was posted on the gate calling the Arabs’ presence “a shameful disgrace.”

Zvieli, a Holocaust survivor from Hungary who endured forced-labor and prisoner-of-war camps, said he was not fazed. “I’ve been through a few things, and I’m handling it,” he said. “You can’t surrender to terror.”

Across the street at his food stand, Yosef Pe’er, bearded with a large knitted skullcap, said that providing housing for Arab students in the heart of the old city, where many strictly Orthodox and newly observant Jews live, is a provocation.

“This place has a particular character, and it’s preferable that it remain Jewish,” he said. Arab students drive by in cars blaring loud music on Friday night, during the Jewish Sabbath, and generally “don’t respect where they are,” Pe’er said.

Safed’s mayor, Ilan Shohat, said the students were “behaving like they were back in their villages.” He said the municipality had received complaints from religious residents after Sabbath weekends of disruptive behavior by students, ranging from playing loud music to smoking a hookah opposite a synagogue and badgering young women.

“Safed is not a racist city at all,” Shohat said. “There’s a cultural problem, which because of the Jewish-Arab divide in Israeli society, is interpreted by the residents as a provocation.”

Arab students denied the allegations of inappropriate behavior, saying that most stay home on weekends and that those in town were often at work at hotels, replacing Jewish employees who were off Saturdays. Some students noted that they had warm relations with their Jewish landlords, who they said treated them like family.

On the streets of Safed, memorial plaques commemorate Jewish fighters killed in the town during Israel’s war of independence in 1948. Safed’s Arab majority fled the fighting, changing it from a mixed city to a Jewish one. The sign plastered on the home of Zvieli, the man threatened for renting to Arab students, accused him of “returning Arabs to Safed.”

Yisrael Lee, an architect and a neighbor, said that the past still hangs heavy over the town. “Memories here are strong,” he said.

Greenberg is a special correspondent.


In the meantime here is an excellent video exploring what it feels like being in the shoes of a Palestinian.

Note: This article is part of our “What if they were Muslim?” series. In this series, we examine the double standards used by anti-Muslim activists when discussing religious extremism in Islam as compared to other religions. We reject using extremists of any religion to justify prejudice, stereotypes, and hostility towards all members of that religion. Period.

, , , , , , , , ,

  • Mosizzle

    Yeah, because you people are scared. Islam was a revolution in 7th Century. Since Muslims are becoming more religious and Christianity is declining, Islamophobes are worried that Islam is going to take over.

  • Khushboo

    “Nobody” Eternut? or just you and your fellow loons? Sane and educated non-Muslims like Muslims.

  • Eternel

    I wonder why nobody likes muslims.
    Has somebody got a clue ?

  • Curious Joe

    What if they were Muslim…

    U.S. motorcycle missionaries attacked in Haiti

  • Abdulmajid

    Yes, of course, assuredly, not all of Zionists are fascists or Nazis; those who want to expel or subdue the Palestinians however, are.
    I’m not denying the Israelis the right to live in Palestine. But as one man from Gaza said before the horrors of “Cast Lead” happened, “No one can live in dignity at the expense of somebody else’s dignity.”
    Not the Israelis and neither of course the Palestinians. But the Palestinians have been a people under ocupation for too long.
    It is however to the credit of the Israelis that unlike the Serbs they never rounded up 8,347 men after having vbesieghed and starved them for three years, then hunted them down like rabbits and shot them in cold blood, then buried them in mass graves and finally dismembered and reburied them elsewhere to conceal the crime, and to add insult to injury, now claim that the massacre never happened, or was preceded by one of similar proportions by the other side.

  • Pingback: Tweets that mention Safed: Racism and Violence against Palestinians; What if they Were Muslim? | --

  • Beautiful Muslim Doll

    this Rabbi Eliyahu is the son of the former Rabbi, who was also notorioous for his extremism, he says he doesn’t want Arabs living with him if they support Hamas and Hezbollah. But I don’t think the Arab’s who seeking homes to rent were supoorters of either.

    Here is an interview he gave to INN
    Rabbi Eliyahu: Islam is ‘Zionist,’ It Promises Israel to Jews
    by David Lev


    “It’s amazing for an outsider to see the difference between zionists and Jews. The zionists are now persecuting the Jews! It is upto the learned folks within judaism to try to remove the cancer of Zionism. Otherwise they will take them down too.
    The zionists are to Judaism, what al quieda is to islam. An abomination!”

    zionists can be Jews and Jews can be Zionists but Zionism doesn’t necessarily mean racism.

    Zionism means supporting a return for Jew to Israel, not racism. Nor is it a monolith, or have one interpretation. Mr. Zvieli, who filed a complaint with the police is a Zionist yet not a racist. Jeff Halper, one of the best Palestinian activists in the world is a Zionist, so is Richard Silverstein.

    Whilst it’s true that some Zionists practice racism, so do non Zionists.

    Also, the opposite number to racist Zionists are anti Zionists who seek to deny any kind of home to Jews. They’re both two sides of the same coin each insisting that ALL of the other are out to kill them all and are racist, whilst supporting the same themselves.

    This article was about racism, being practiced by extremist Israeli Jews. It wasn’t about bashing Zionism.

  • Abdulmajid

    Thanks to Mr. Zvieli, who experienced even worse during the Holocaust but who was for his fortune not dehumanized nor has he lost his empathy. God bless him.
    But as for the others, I have just heard on the radio the experiences of a German-Jewish actress (her parents were Holocaust survivors too; and in any case lost many relatives in the Holocaust) who was in Israel during Operation “Cast Lead” and she felt disgusted by all her neighbors commenting that the IDF was being “too soft” to the Palestinians. She left Israel profoundly disgusted.
    If someone objects to my calling those anti-Muslim rabbis and their acolytes “Zio-Nazis”, I still blieve that the term Zio-fascists or Zio-racists or Zio-crusaders is still quite appropriate.
    And don’t anybody dare tell me that whatever injustices or mistreatment non-Muslim inhabiotants of Muslim countries suffer is a good enough pretext to oppress Muslims in other countries, or in their own. Not only is such an idea stupid but evil and morally rotten. Same goes for trying to justify genocide or anti-Muslim pogroms with events that happened decades or centuries ago.

  • Anj

    It’s amazing for an outsider to see the difference between zionists and Jews. The zionists are now persecuting the Jews! It is upto the learned folks within judaism to try to remove the cancer of Zionism. Otherwise they will take them down too.
    The zionists are to Judaism, what al quieda is to islam. An abomination!

  • Garo

    Well,at least the Washington Post has published a rather lengthy article about the bigotry of Rabbi Shmuel Eliahu of the Israeli town of Safed.

    My “THANK YOU” goes to the writer of the article,Joel Greenburg,as well as the Washington Post newspaper for exposing a very small part of bigotry and hatred encountered daily by the Palestinians in Israel.

  • JD


    A new Phoenix church under construction is being mistaken for a Muslim mosque.

  • Justin

    I do believe that anti-Muslim bigotry has a direct relationship to Zionist political jocking in the Palestinian-Israeli occupation, i.e. OBSESSION.

  • JD

    Palsetinans by stoping muslims

  • JD

    Last month, Eliahu called a public meeting to sound the alarm. On the agenda was “the quiet war,” a reference to the feared Arab influx, and “fighting assimilation in the holy city of Safed.”

    Sound like Isreali Zionist Proxy war on islam the zionist scum imported here by people like Pam Geller , Joyce Kaufman,Allen West, Spencer,Bat Ye’and other zionist to fight

  • Justin

    Culturalism is the new racism. Instead of people believing in the inherent superiority of their genes, now they believe in the inherent superiority of their culture. That way they can be racist and claim not to be racist at the same time.

  • mindy1

    Considering all of the hate us Jews have been through, you’d think they would know better-but to beat up a Holocaust survivor, and to try to exclude groups of people smacks of hate to me, and they should be ashamed-hate is not part of our faith 🙁

Powered by Loon Watchers