Arab couple says racism behind sushi restaurant’s refusal to book them a table

Arab couple says racism behind sushi restaurant’s refusal to book them a table

Soho in Rishon Lezion denies accusation, claims rejected reservation was due to establishment being fully booked

Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for the Times of Israel

Sushi (illustrative photo credit: Liron Almog/Flash90)
Sushi (illustrative photo credit: Liron Almog/Flash90)

An Israeli Arab couple claims that a sushi restaurant refused to reserve a table for them when they used their real names, but found a free spot minutes later when they identified themselves using Jewish-sounding monikers. The restaurant denied the allegation of racism.

In a report in Yedioth Ahronoth on Sunday, Samma and Mahmoud Safouri were quoted as saying that the Soho restaurant in Rishon Lezion refused to make a reservation for them on Thursday due to their ethnicity. In a Facebook post titled “Racism at the sushi restaurant,” Safouri claimed that the hostess had told him and his wife that the eatery was fully booked; however, when they called and gave a Jewish name minutes later, a table was reserved immediately.

“The first incident happened four years ago,” Mahmoud told the Hebrew daily. After Samma was told that the restaurant was full, he said, “I called again and asked to reserve a table under the name Moti,” and a table was found. He said the manager apologized and offered a compensation, and “we forgot about it.”

Safouri claimed that a similar incident occurred In May. He said that he and his wife recorded a phone call in which the hostess asked the meaning of Samma’s name, and after being told that it meant “sky” in Arabic she claimed that the reservations system was down. Then, too, Mahmoud claimed, he immediately called back, gave a “Jewish name,” and was able to book. His wife then called a third time, using her real name, and was again told that the system was down.

“We realized there was a problem,” he was quoted as saying.

After he uploaded his post to Facebook Thursday, other users of the social network told Safouri of similar experiences.

Safouri said that even if the restaurant’s management apologized, “I won’t go to that restaurant any more.” He said there were enough good establishments in the area that “don’t care who you are or where you come from.”

Soho rejected the claims of racism, saying that it received hundreds of calls every given day. There were times, the restaurant claimed, when the eatery could be fully booked at one moment and then have an opening a few minutes later.

The Safouris were regular customers, and the system had four recorded reservations under their real names in recent months, the restaurant said in a statement. “Soho believes in full equality, regardless of religion, color or gender. Mr. and Mrs. Safouri are invited to the restaurant at any time.”

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