Protest held at Invercargill cafe

About 20 protesters stood outside a Turkish cafe in Invercargill today, protesting against owner Mustafa Tekinkaya banning Israeli customers while the bombing of Gaza continues.

Sisters Natalie Bennie and Tamara Shefa Mevlana were asked to leave by Mr Tekinkaya as they waited to place an order on Wednesday.

Mr Tekinkaya said he would not serve Israelis until the death and destruction on the Gaza Strip ended.

"This has nothing to do what's right or wrong in foreign conflicts, this is totally to do with what is right or wrong in New Zealand," protest organiser Matthew Collins told One News.

Mr Tekinkaya, a Muslim, kept a low profile as demonstrators vented their feelings.

A Muslim-owned kebab shop a few doors down from the Turkish cafe is also refusing to serve Israelis.

Israel's ambassador to New Zealand, Yuval Rotem, said he wanted the Government to ensure actions such as the cafe owners were not repeated.

"I don't know if it's a racist attack or not but I have a feeling that it's not, it's just that he's showing his feeling of anger," Mr Rotem, who is based in Australia, told The Southland Times.

"This anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish sentiment needs to be stopped."

The Federation of Muslim Associations of New Zealand (FIANZ) condemned the "atrocities" being carried out in Gaza by Israel, and its president Javad Khan said he could understand where Mr Tekinkaya was coming from.

"But if their action constitutes a breach of the Human Rights Act ... then we shouldn't breach the law of the country," he told the Otago Daily Times.

Mrs Bennie, a New Zealand citizen who has lived here for seven years, said she was shocked when she and her sister, visiting from Israel, were told to leave the cafe.

"I felt the kind of racism people were exposed to in the 1940s and '50s," she told the paper.

She has laid a complaint with the Human Rights Commission, which planned to mediate between the parties.

Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres said yesterday refusal to serve someone based on their nationality was a clear human rights breach.

National MP Eric Roy turned up at today's protest and said he was saddened that Middle East politics had reached Invercargill.

"I'm a bit surprised that this is happening in Invercargill, it's sort of a bit tragic in a way because there's no winners in this whole situation either in Gaza or here," he told TV3.

Auckland-based group Global Peace and Justice Auckland (GPJA) is planning a protest against Rakon Industries tomorrow in Mt Wellington, Auckland.

It said that Rakon provided crystal oscillators for bombs used by the Israeli airforce.

Protests in Christchurch and Dunedin have also been planned for tomorrow.

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