Should immigrants be allowed to keep and promote the hatreds and prejudices of their homelands? It seems to me that question is at the heart of an incident at an Invercargill café.
Two Israeli sisters were visiting a local café (one lives in the area with her New Zealand husband and children, the other was visiting). They told the Southland Times (via Stuff) that the café owner overheard them speaking Hebrew, asked where they were from, and when they said “Israel”, he ordered them out.
The café owner, Mustafa Tekinkaya, a Turkish Muslim, told the Southland Times, "I have decided as a protest not to serve Israelis until the war stops." He claimed not to have anything against Israeli people, but he said he’d continue to tell them to leave. The owner of a nearby kebab shop said he was doing the same.
The problem, of course, is that the action is completely illegal under New Zealand law. The Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination in the provision of goods and services on the grounds of religion, ethnic or national origin, or political opinion, among other things. The Race Relations Commissioner, Joris de Bres, said it best: "Whatever the rights and wrongs of the situation in Palestine, it is simply against the law for providers of goods and services in New Zealand to discriminate in this way."
Taking Mr. Tekinkaya at his word that he doesn’t hate Israelis, he should have known better than to break New Zealand law: All immigrants must obey the law. He could’ve lawfully put a protest sign in his window. He could have lawfully named a dish the “Israel out of Gaza” sandwich or something—as long as neither was an attempt to discriminate against anyone. But he cannot break New Zealand law and expect to face no consequence. I think that anyone who does this sort of thing should be prosecuted.
As an immigrant, I feel very strongly that no one has the right to bring the hatreds and prejudices of their homeland to this country—they should be left behind. If a person makes the decision to emigrate to New Zealand, then they also must accept all New Zealand laws and cultural norms. If they can’t or don’t want to for whatever reason, they should choose a different country more in line with their attitudes.
Ultimately, the issue here isn’t the political cause, and it doesn’t matter who discriminated against whom nor the ethnicities or religions of either side. Instead, it’s a simple matter of someone wilfully and deliberately violating the law. And that’s simply not acceptable, no matter how justified the person may feel.
Oh, and the ultimate irony? One of the sisters said she actually shared some of the same views as Mr. Tekinkaya. You set out to discriminate, and you will inevitably end up hurting those on your own side. That’s why discrimination isn’t just illegal, it’s also really, really stupid.
Update 16/01/09: There was a protest demonstration outside the café today. A person that TVNZ identified as a protest organiser said what I think is the main point; to paraphrase: "It's not about what's right or wrong in Gaza, it's about what's right or wrong in New Zealand." I couldn't agree more.
Update 2 (18/01/09): The café has experienced a "global backlash", according to the Sunday Star-Times (via Stuff). The paper reported, "People were leaving up to 25 messages a day on the couple's two business phones and were telephoning them at home and on their cellphones. They were also sending emails." Global backlash? Yes, well, the Star-Times is sometimes given to hyperbole. Turns out the story was posted on a US-based news site for Orthodox Jews, the paper reported, and that led subscribers (who are in several countries) to post the café's phone numbers (as if it would've been hard to find out a business phone number!). Apparently an offer of mediation has now arrived from the Human Rights Commission, and the café may apologise for taking the action they did.