‘There’s No Palestinian Culture!’: Far-right Protesters Disrupt Jewish-Arab Event in Haifa

After trying to disrupt the event by purchasing hundreds of tickets in advance, right-wing activists arrived at the venue and called participants ‘terrorists.’ Activist Shay Glick: ‘This place will be shut down. We’ll dry up its budgets’

Sheren Falah Saab
Sheren Falah Saab
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Far-right activists of Otzma Yehudit in Haifa on SundayCredit: Rami Shlush
Sheren Falah Saab
Sheren Falah Saab

Several dozen right-wing activists attended a demonstration on Sunday in Haifa to protest a Palestinian culture event sponsored by the city’s Beit Hagefen Jewish-Arab culture center. The event, entitled “Limits in Palestinian Culture,” was held as part Beit Hagefen’s Haifa Story festival at the Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art.

The demonstrators stood outside the museum holding Israeli flags and banners from Itamar Ben-Gvir’s far-right Otzma Yehudit party, which is slated to be part of the incoming government coalition. Some of the demonstrators held signs reading “Enough with the Haifa terror festival” and “Enough with the culture of terror.”

MK Almog Cohen confronts participants of the culture even in Haifa on SundayCredit: Rami Shlush

“There is no Palestinian culture! A closure order needs to be issued against this place. Shame,” one protester yelled. In addition to prominent representation from Otzma Yehudit, other demonstrators represented the parents of children who died in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Otzma Yehudit MK Zvika Fogel, who was sworn into office last week, told Haaretz, “We came here because we support IDF soldiers and support embracing bereaved families. This event doesn’t respect those two things.”

Fogel made specific reference to the former Arab culture director at the Culture and Sports Ministry, Lubna Zoabi, who resigned several months ago. “From the moment that the guest of honor is someone such as Zoabi, who leads a very clear line justifying harm to security forces and IDF soldiers, and the whole evening is moderated by a man who called IDF soldiers Nazis, then I’m sorry, but I can’t sit quietly. It burns me up inside.”

The reference to the moderator was to Rami Younes of Kan television Channel. After trying to thwart the event through ordering hundreds of tickets in advance under false identities, right-wing activists arrived at the museum and called the participants “terror supporters,” yelling that “There is no Palestinian culture. This place should be shut down. Shame.”

“I have no problem with a Palestinian culture event. The problem is with the guest of honor and the moderator.” Fogel denied any desire on Otzma Yehudit’s part to “violate the status quo” in Israel or that the party “has anything against all of the Arabs.” He also added that “It’s just against those who maliciously, clearly and actively harm the State of Israel.”

Another demonstrator, Haifa resident Eli Debi, said “I have no problem with Arabs in Haifa. My brother was killed in the army in Haifa in ’78 so that Mr. Rami Younes would breathe air. And my brother isn’t a Nazi! I came here with a loudspeaker to tell this to his face. I came to stand with the bereaved families, so he understands that those who died during their service were also killed for him. I don’t know Rami Younes. I’ve only heard about his comments in the media.”

In 2017, Zouabi posted on Facebook, reading: “To all those saying that life is more important than land and al-Aqsa, I say to those who have raped the land: you and your souls are next. You won’t be able to protect your bodies and souls unless you can protect your symbols, identities, and existence through humiliation. You'll be under the boot all the time.”

Younes shared a cartoon that expressed support for BDS, and following the death of medic Razan a-Najar from IDF fire in 2018 he posted: “The Israeli Nazis who've been shooting Palestinians in the world’s largest ghetto, have shifted gears today by murdering a nurse via a bullet to the chest.”

Registration for the event was open to the public through the Beit Hagefen website. Last Thursday a group of right-wing activists called “Ending Arab Terrorism” ordered 500 tickets under fake identities in order to disrupt it. After the organizers realized this trolling attempt, they restarted the registration process based on ID numbers.

The police were present at the event itself to ensure entry by those who actually registered. Those attending were required to show the police their registration receipt and show ID. Eventually, some 170 people attended.

Among those who purchased a ticket under false pretense was also Shai Glick, Director of the right-wing organization B’tzalmo. Following talks with the police he was allowed in and sat in the back. When Lubna Zouabi spoke he stood up, called her a “terror supporter,” and addressed the audience: “This is a terror-supporting event and I will personally and legally persecute Lubna Zouabi and Rami Younes.”

People in the audience did not remain silent. Some called out loud: “Police, do your job already!” One of the participants hurled at him: “Get lost, you Judo-Nazi with a skullcap.”

Participants of the culture event in Haifa on SundayCredit: Rami Shlush

Glick was undeterred. “This place will be shut down. We’ll dry up its budgets. We’ll make sure that the city, the Culture Minister and the Galilee and Negev Ministry see to it. This place is playing with fire,” he said. “Haifa Municipal Legal Counsel indicated in a letter that she’ll look into whether this place actually promotes coexistence or not. After this event they’ll transfer the transcripts, and to me that’s a victory, that it’s an event held under censorship. I’ll go after them everywhere. We have a fully right-wing government, and we’ll complete the Loyalty in Culture Law which Miri Regev filed and which passed a first vote. Then we’ll be able to deny budgets to such places.”

City officials asked Beit Hagefen to deliver the event transcripts so that they can check the contents. Att. Dan Yakir of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) said that “the request to deliver the contents of plays or cultural content did exist under Minister Miri Regev, but the Culture Minister has no authority to be a censor of plays. Nor does the legal counsel of the city of Haifa have the power to censor, not even after the fact. This is a very dangerous precedent.”

Haifa Municipal Spokesman Eliran Tal said in response: “Following reports to the city regarding the very existence of the event and the speakers at it, the Mayor has instructed the Legal Counsel to look into the matter. The Legal Counsel has passed her professional instructions on to the conference organizers.”

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