Residents of Safed, a city of 35,000 in Israel’s Upper Galilee, are unhappy with the presence of Israeli Arabs in their midst. So unhappy, in fact, that they’ve started a campaign, led by Shmuel Eliyahu, the town’s head rabbi, to make it a crime to rent rooms to their Arab fellow countrymen.
That makes Eli Tzavieli a potential lawbreaker.
First they threatened to burn his house down. Then they pinned leaflets to his front door, denouncing him as a Jewish traitor. But Eli Tzavieli, an 89-year-old Holocaust survivor, is defiant. His only “crime” is to rent out his rooms to three Arab students attending the college in Safed, a religious city in northern Israel that was until recently more famous for Jewish mysticism and Madonna.
“I’m not looking for trouble, but if there is a problem, I’ll confront it,” says Mr Tzavieli, a Jew who survived Nazi forced labour camps and whose parents perished in Auschwitz. “These [tenants] are great kids. And I’m doing my best to make them comfortable.”
Notwithstanding the fact that Safed is one of Judaism’s four holy cities, the bigotry is widespread.
“I see the Arabs here wearing gold chains, and it looks like Syria,” says a young woman, who wears a modest headscarf to cover her hair. “This is an orthodox city, and [that] is impure.”
Leave it to the faithful to find the shortest path to strife and hatred.