Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Why Israeli workers were sold short in war protest

Anybody who’s been in Belfast’s CastleCourt over the last few months will recognise the stall.

It’s not very far from the front door, just past the smoothie and snack stand. It sells skin cream and soaps and bath products. What the skincare trade would call pampering products. As opposed to weapons of mass destruction

The people who man the stall are mostly young. And there aren’t a lot of them.

So last Saturday when this bunch of unsuspecting skincare vendors were suddenly surrounded by a baying, flag waving crowd of pro-Palestinian sympathisers it must have been a truly terrifying experience for them.

The young sales people are Israeli. The products they sell are sourced in the Dead Sea. And that was enough to make the workers at the Sea Spa Skin Care stand targets of the protestors’ wrath.

They were bombarded with leaflets and photographs of the violence in the Middle East. The crowd of protesters surrounding them yelled in their faces. The sales people retreated behind their counter. A couple of them — one a young girl — burst into tears.

As migrant workers they must feel vulnerable enough in our city at times. Being surrounded like this by a swarm of roaring, scowling locals must have scared the wits out of them.

The protestors were from a republican group called éirígí who, before last Saturday’s so-called ‘peace march’ at Belfast City Hall, went to CastleCourt. A video of the CastleCourt incident, posted on YouTube, provided a sharper sense of just how frightening it must have been for the sales assistants suddenly swamped by the protestors. Watching it, the word that springs to mind is bullying. Plain and simple.

Judging by some of the comments that accompany the clip that’s not an uncommon response.

“Cowardly,” one posted comment calls it.

“Shameful behaviour,” says another.

“This is blatant racism and sectarianism disguised as a ‘protest',” argues another. Another still makes the point, “This makes me ashamed to live in Belfast. The similarities with Germany in the 1930s are chilling.”

Is this last posting overstating the situation? After all nobody was seriously injured ... But there is something sinister and low and shabby and truly scary about what happened at that stall on Saturday. It was the singling out of a group of workers simply because of their ethnic background.

Are we really prepared to turn a blind eye to this sort of blatant, racist bullying in our city? Had those workers been Chinese or African there would, quite rightly, have been a city wide outcry about them being harassed in this way.

But because they’re Israeli it seems to be shrugged off.

No big deal. We look the other way.

They did that in Germany too.

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