Storm brews over Palestinian pints in Israeli pub

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Just when it seemed there was nothing else left to divide Israelis and Palestinians, some Jewish hardliners have found a new one: beer.

The recent decision by a trendy pub in the northern Israeli city of Haifa to make Shepherds beer available sparked the controversy.

The problem: Shepherds is a Palestinian beer recently launched by a brewery in the occupied West Bank.

The decision by the bar, the Libira, led to drunken-sounding diatribes from some.

“Traitors’ bar! I call on everyone not to go there,” read one of the comments on the Facebook page of the pub located at the traditional port in Haifa’s Old City.

“This Palestinian beer is made with Jewish blood,” said another.

When he saw the insults, co-owner Erik Salarov, said he was shocked.

At the bar that he opened with friends, “we don’t do politics”, he said.

“We offer a drink with friends. We have highlighted a Scottish beer, a beer from Tel Aviv and Taybeh beer,” he added, naming the most popular Palestinian brew.

For Salarov, those who call for a boycott of Libira are “a handful of racist nationalists who do not accept the idea of co-existence”.

He says co-existence is a part of life in Haifa, where 10 percent of residents are Arab Israelis, or the descendants of Palestinians who remained after the creation of Israel in 1948.

Salarov says that dynamic is particularly strong in the Old City. Jews and Arabs gather together -- rare in Israel -- at bars and restaurants in the neighborhood.

He has seen hardliners seek to cause trouble before.

“We’ve seen it several times, but they are a minority,” said Salarov. “They are more bark than bite.”

“Arabs and Jews live mixed in almost all neighborhoods,” he said.

Still, he said, “every right-wing attack causes tensions to rise between Jews and Arabs”.

“Twenty years ago, the number of right-wing militants was much less,” he added.

Haifa, known in particular for its Baha’i Gardens, is also a cultural center for Israel’s Arab population.

The city’s Krieger Centre for the arts regularly holds concerts featuring Arab music and theatres stage Arabic plays.

Jaafar Farah of Arab Israeli rights group Mossawa said sometimes it seems that “Arabs account for 50 percent of the population instead of only 10 percent”.

But the city’s Arab cultural events have regularly come under attack from the far right.

Some called for a boycott of a recent concert by Arab Israeli hip-hop artist Tamer Nafar, whose pioneering political rap group DAM has touched a nerve with songs like 'Who’s the Terrorist?'.

Al-Midan Theatre’s state subsidies were frozen for a year in 2015 after a similar campaign targeting the play ‘A Parallel Time’, whose plot has close similarities to the life of an Arab-Israeli jailed over the kidnapping and murder of an Israeli soldier.

A year before that, then Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman called for a boycott of Arab Israeli stores because they supported a one-day strike in solidarity with Gazans during the 2014 Gaza war.

Like Akko, another mixed city along the coast, Haifa has also seen demonstrations that have degenerated into violence, said Farah.

“The far right wants to create clashes to then be able to show that co-existence between Jews and Arabs is impossible,” he said.

For Leonid Lipkin, co-owner of Libira, those efforts will fail.

“We are resisting and the proof is that we are still open,” he said.

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