UPDATED: Adding to the Turmoil, Foodbenders is Sued

By RON CSILLAG

Foodbenders has been served.

The Toronto eatery that’s been at the centre of a firestorm of controversy for its antisemitic and anti-Zionist posts on social media has been slapped with a lawsuit.

The action, served on the Bloor St. W. restaurant on July 10, seeks a total of $750,000 in damages. It was filed by Shai DeLuca, a high-profile Toronto interior designer, who alleges he was defamed in two Instagram posts under Foodbenders’ account.

DeLuca’s lawsuit names both the restaurant and Hawkins.

Shai DeLuca
Shai DeLuca

The lawsuit came on the heels of a complaint against Foodbenders filed at the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal on behalf of GTA resident Elena Aschkenasi, 86, whose parents fled Nazi Germany. She claims Foodbenders owner Kimberly Hawkins discriminated against Jews when Hawkins publicly stated her refusal to serve Zionists in her store.

Another human rights complaint against Foodbenders by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs is expected to be filed soon. A petition calling for CIJA to file a complaint has to date garnered nearly 1,500 signatures.

DeLuca’s Instagram profile describes him as a “celebrity designer…TV personality, speaker…IDF (Israel Defense Forces) sergeant (Ret) Tel Aviv/Toronto…” It also shows a small Israeli flag.

His lawsuit alleges that on or about July 6, the following message, placed partially over his profile and highlighted in black, stated: “He’s literally gathering his other whining Zionist friends to attack Palestinians and others in support of @foodbenders.”

A second post under Foodbenders’ account, highlighted in purple, said, “This guy is one of the people who was attacking@foodbenders. He’s an IDF SOLDIER (aka terrorist) yet he’s using the BLM (Black Lives Matter) movement for likes. How can you sit here and post about BLM when you have your sniper rifle aimed at Palestinian Children.”

The posts “clearly” refer to DeLuca, as they were marked over his social media profile,which contains his Instagram profile nameand image, his 11-page statement of claim says.

The Instagram posts are defamatory and libelous, DeLuca claims, because they were understood to mean that he is a terrorist or is involved in terrorist and criminal activities;has murdered or is planning to murderPalestinian children; is involved in planning an attack at Foodbenders; is not law-abiding; and other misdeeds, the lawsuit alleges.

“Shai is a proud Jew,” his filing states. “He is both a Canadian and Israeli citizen. He grew up in the State of Israel, where he served his compulsory term of military service as a sergeant in the Israel Defense Forces. Like most Jews in Canada and around the world, Shai is a Zionist – he believes in and supports the State of Israel as the national home and refuge for the Jewish people.”

DeLuca seeks $500,000 in general and special damages, and a further $250,000 in aggravated and/or punitive damages. He also wants the offending posts taken down, and an admission that Foodbenders and Hawkins violated Ontario’s Human Rights Code.

The Toronto restaurant has generated headlines worldwide for the past few weeks over such online statements as “#zionistsnotwelcome,” and “Zionists are Nazis.”

A sandwich board outside the eatery proclaimed “F@ck Mossad, IDF, Bibi.”

Other posts accused Jewish groups of controlling the media and elected officials. One described Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as a “Zionist puppet.”

The statements were denounced by Premier Doug Ford and Mayor John Tory. In their wake, several food delivery services cut ties to Foodbenders, while other businesses said they would no longer carry its products.

Foodbenders and Hawkins have until July 30 to file a defence to DeLuca’s action. The restaurant did not respond to an email seeking comment, and its phone is inoperative.

In an email to the CJR, DeLuca said he, “like the majority of Israelis, support Palestinian rights and are forever hopeful peace will be reached in our lifetime. He said his lawsuit “in no way is an attempt to silence support for Palestinian rights.”

Rather, it’s about the “defamatory post(s), using my photo, accusing me of being a terrorist and a sniper against Palestinian children.”

He said he’s “hopeful this will serve as a moment of clarity for Ms. Hawkins, that libelous claims, based on prejudice and bigotry because of my nationality, masked as political discourse, will not be tolerated.”

The lawsuit was filed by the Toronto law firm RE-LAW LLP together with the U.S.-based Lawfare Project, which provides legal counsel and services to pro-Israel and Jewish communities that have been targeted.


Ron Csillag
Ron Csillag is editor of the CJR