Settlers pull plug on telecom firm over its act for Jewish-Arab coexistence

Far-right MKs protest timing of cellular company’s 1-hour pause of service, which coincided with Arab Israeli and Palestinian general strike to protest Gaza operation

A Cellcom service station in Jerusalem on November 5, 2015 (Lior Mizrahi/Flash90)
A Cellcom service station in Jerusalem on November 5, 2015 (Lior Mizrahi/Flash90)

Several Jewish settlement councils and right-wing organizations on Tuesday announced they were cutting ties with major telecommunications company Cellcom, after the company halted work for an hour on Tuesday to protest Jewish-Arab mob violence in Israel in the past week.

Cellcom said the gesture was meant as an act in support of coexistence in Israel between Arabs and Jews. But members of the far-right Religious Zionism party claimed the protest — which coincided with a general strike by Arab Israelis and Palestinians on Tuesday throughout Israel, the West Bank and Gaza — was a show of solidarity with the Palestinians against Israel’s military operation in Gaza.

“Cellcom is disconnected from the people of Israel, the people of Israel must disconnect from Cellcom,” tweeted party leader Bezalel Smotrich, urging a boycott.

His fellow party member Itamar Ben Gvir added: “Disconnect from Cellcom. Now. Those who identify with terrorists and [their] strikes are not worthy of receiving our business.”

Religious Zionism party leader Bezalel Smotrich, left, and Itamar Ben Gvir of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party at an election campaign tour at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on March 19, 2021, four days before the general election. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The heads of the Gush Etzion Regional Council, Har Hebron Regional Council, Shomron Regional Council and Binyamin Regional Council — all in the West Bank — subsequently said they would cease working with Cellcom and were seeking alternative providers.

The Bnei Akiva religious youth group also sent a letter to Cellcom saying “we will have to halt our years-long partnership.”

The company’s stock slipped by some 2 percent following the controversy.

In response, Cellcom said: “Cellcom employs workers of all religions and faiths who work together, shoulder to shoulder, in these times. Some of them are concerned and are endangering themselves as we speak to give service in some areas. We back the IDF soldiers and officers and defense establishment, support the citizens of the entire country and particularly those in the south, who are under  cruel and abhorrent rocket bombardment.

“The gathering today was a call for coexistence… It’s obvious there was no and hasn’t been any connection or identification with the strike of [Arab leaders]. In retrospect, the timing was a mistake and enabled those who are looking to fan the flames to forge a link that doesn’t exist between the two,” it said.

Following the news of the boycott, MK Ayman Odeh, the head of the predominantly Arab Joint List party, tweeted: “I heard the settlers are disconnecting from Cellcom. I never thought I’d be so envious of a cellular company.”

A police patrol car on fire in the city of Lod, May 12, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Tensions between Israel’s Jewish and Arab communities spiraled into mob violence in multiple ethnically mixed communities over the past week, turning cities into veritable war zones, with police failing to contain the most serious internal unrest to grip the country in years.

A Jewish man in Lod died of his injuries after a brick was hurled at his head during the riots and several other people — Jews and Arabs — were seriously injured in shootings and beatings during the unrest, which has mostly subsided this week.

Over the course of the clashes, some 112 Jewish homes were torched and another 386 looted amid the rioting, according to the Walla news site. It said there has been one case of an Arab home being torched, which resulted in the injury of two children — a 12-year-old boy and a 10-year-old girl in Jaffa.

The firebombing in Jaffa was allegedly committed by Arab Israelis, in an apparent case of “mistaken identity,” an unnamed police official told Walla. On Monday, the police announced it had arrested a 20-year-old Arab resident of the city on suspicion of being involved in the attack.

According to the Haaretz daily, 116 suspects have been indicted so far for incidents related to the unrest — all of them Arab.

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