New Zealand cafe owner apologizes to Israelis

SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) — A New Zealand cafe owner who evicted two Israelis from his establishment during Israel’s invasion of Gaza apologized.

Mustafa Tekinkaya, a Turkish-born Muslim, told Natalie Bennie and her visiting sister, Tamara Shefa, to leave his Mevlana Cafe in Invercargill on the southern tip of New Zealand’s South Island after he overheard them speak Hebrew to each other.

He said at the time he would not serve Israelis until the Israeli army stopped killing innocent women and children in Gaza.

Bennie said Tekinkaya apologized on Feb. 25, according to the Southland Times.

"After meeting him in person, he is just a human being like the rest of us," Bennie told the newspaper. "Everyone trips up every so often, and I suppose I am just hoping that was a trip-up."

Tekinkaya also apologized in a letter to Bennie’s sister, who has returned to Israel. 

The apology was mediated by the Human Rights Commission after the Israeli sisters lodged an official complaint.

"The parties recognize that this has been a matter of public interest, and they want it known that they both value and support harmonious race relations," the commission said in a Feb. 27 statement. Both parties agreed to keep details of the agreement confidential.
 
Reports of the Jan. 14 incident sparked a storm of protest, with Israel’s ambassador to New Zealand, Yuval Rotem, calling on the Kiwi government to take action.

"This anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish sentiment needs to be stopped," he told a local newspaper at the time.
 

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