EDITORIAL: Eschewing Hate and Embracing Harmony

It would seem that as we continue to hover in the eye of the pandemic, everything is magnified – from our anxieties, to our learning; from our health, to our diet; and most notably, from our avowed hatreds and dislikes.

All too often, the expressed hatred takes the form of bigotry, racism, antisemitism, Islamophobia, and more. Prior to the pandemic, we of course saw signs of hate and extremism around us. Given our new fears and concerns, issues of racism remain no longer well-hidden or even camouflaged. Indeed like a rabid, growling dog, it is biting us square on the tuches.

Two incidents this past week in the GTA give us all reason for worry.

The proprietor of a little-known Toronto eatery called Foodbenders has chosen to express herself quite publicly about how she believes the Israeli government has abused and mistreated Palestinians, specifically in the occupied territories.

To be sure, there is much to be concerned with. Their treatment, especially by Israel’s current government, has prompted global condemnation. Surely the owner of a small restaurant in Toronto has the right to her opinions about Israel and its policies.

But in this case, those criticisms moved well beyond the political into hardcore antisemitism and anti-Zionist sentiment, mirroring those on the extremes of the political spectrum who have used the term “Zionist” to mean “Jew,” and have done so simply as an excuse to foment antisemitism. In years past, and to this very day, we have seen white supremacists and their ilk use terms like “Zio-Nazi” to mean “Jews.”

And while she has insisted that she has nothing against Jews, the owner of Foodbenders chose to post “Zionists are not welcome” at her eatery (leaving it unclear how she would discern a Zionist if one walked in).

In other social posts, she raised old anti-Jewish tropes: That Jewish groups control the media and influence the economy. She claimed that “Zionists are Nazis.”

Naturally, this led to harsh but proper reaction from mainstream Jewish organizations some of which are launching complaints with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. Toronto police hate crimes officers are also investigating.

Sadly, some of the more extreme anti-Muslim elements within and outside the Jewish community have used this hateful incident to engage in some hate of their own, scrawling anti-Muslim graffiti on the sidewalks and walls in front of the offending restaurant. Once again the Toronto police hate crimes unit is kept busy investigating these offences as well.

But it doesn’t end there. Just a few days ago in Mississauga, Ont., what started as a peaceful pro-Palestinian rally quickly degenerated into an anti-Israel harangue replete with ugly antisemitic epithets including “Jews are our dogs.”

All of this occurs while mainstream Jewish and Muslim groups have been trying to find an avenue to dialogue. Indeed, both the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and the National Council of Canadian Muslims have been cooperating of late on anti-racist programs, inter-faith dialogue and more. They join groups like JSpace Canada and Salam/Shalom, which have been engaged for years in dialogue and joint programming.

This is the way towards harmony. Canada provides us with a unique platform steeped in its own attempts at reconciliation and multiculturalism. There is still much work to do on these fronts, but we all have the opportunity. Let us not allow a few with hate in their hearts to spoil our efforts to find a path forward.

UPDATED: Mayor Joins Chorus against Foodbenders; Others Cut Ties

Toronto Mayor John Tory has denounced antisemitic and anti-Zionist statements emanating from the Toronto restaurant Foodbenders.

“There is no place for this type of hate or discrimination in our city or anywhere else in Canada,” Tory stated in a tweet on July 8. “I stand with Toronto’s Jewish community in condemning this type of hate and intolerance and commit to continue to build up our city as a place that is inclusive of everyone.”

The day before, Ontario Premier Doug Ford condemned Foodbenders statements. “Language and actions like this are disgusting and will not be tolerated here in Ontario,” Ford stated. “Our government stands with the Jewish community in condemning this kind of behaviour here at home, and across the globe.”

Meantime, another food delivery service has cut ties to Foodbenders. On July 7, DoorDash announced that it severed relations with the business.

In a letter to Jaime Kirzner-Roberts, director of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre’s Campaign Against Antisemitism, David London, who’s listed at LinkedIn as head of U.S. East, U.S. Federal and Canada Government Relations at DoorDash, wrote to say his company investigates reports of “inappropriate behavior as soon as they are brought to our attention and have decided to remove the merchant [Foodbenders] from our platform for failure to follow the community guidelines and our partner code of conduct. This took effect immediately.”

London said DoorDash was founded “to connect people and we strive to make sure everyone in our community feels safe when using the platform. We do not tolerate any form of malicious, discriminatory or hateful behavior, and any violation of this policy is grounds for deactivation.”

Only the day before, Uber curtly informed Foodbenders that its agreement with the eatery “is terminated effective immediately.” On the same day, the food delivery service Ritual also cut ties to Foodbenders.

As well, Ambrosia, a natural foods store with three locations in Toronto and Vaughan, will no longer carry products from Foodbenders.

In an online reply to Daniel Koren, director of Hasbara Fellowships Canada, Ambrosia said it will no longer sell Foodbenders’ products at its three locations. “We believe in love, community, and togetherness,” the business added.

Two Toronto coffee shops, Blue Heaven Café and Café Con Leche, have also cuts ties to Foodbenders.

Located in Toronto’s Bloordale neighbourhood, Foodbenders has come under intense scrutiny for its antisemitic and anti-Zionist pronouncements on social media and on signs outside the store.

It first drew attention for proclaiming “F@ck the Police” on a sandwich board outside the business. But in recent weeks, it turned its ire toward the Jewish community.

One sign said “defund Israel,” while another stated, “F@ck Mossad, IDF, Bibi.

On Instagram, the eatery announced: “#zionistsnotwelcome,” and “Zionists are Nazis.”

On Canada Day, the restaurant put out a sign saying, “Happy KKKanada Day.”

The business also praised Leila Khaled, who hijacked two planes 50 years ago as a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a group designated a terrorist entity in Canada. Alongside a photo of Khaled clutching a rifle, the business proclaimed: “There is only solution: Intifada. Revolution.”

Of Canadian Jewish groups, it said, “These people control your media and elected officials.” On her personal Facebook page, Foodbenders owner Kimberly Hawkins described Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as a “Zionist puppet.”

The statements prompted days of fervid activity on social media and denunciations from Jewish advocacy groups. The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said it would refer the matter to its Legal Task Force.

“Simply put, the overwhelming majority of Jewish Canadians are Zionists,” CIJA noted.

B’nai Brith suggested contacting 311@toronto.ca to request an investigation of that Foodbenders’ business license.

In a later post on social media, Foodbenders said “criticizing the Israeli zionist state occupation or the police isn’t a hate crime. Nor is it anti-Semitic to say that zionist journalists in Toronto and now Israel have written slander [sic] fake news pieces about me to present me as racist for the sole reason of silencing me on Palestine. They are controlling the narrative of my story and they are lying.

“Jews are very welcome to shop with us, zionists may also shop if they can do so without insisting they’re [sic] right to a homeland justifies killing other people,” the post went on “When a Zionist tells us Palestinians should be murdered, something that happens all day long, we ask them to leave because THAT is hate speech.”

– CJR Staff