The owners of the Libira Brewpub in lower Haifa just wanted to give their customers a chance to sample a Palestinian beer from the Shepherds Brewery in Ramallah, and made it available for a month. They never imagined that it would become a political hot potato and evoke angry reactions. Indeed, for the past week, there has been a growing number of calls online to boycott their establishment completely.
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“We don’t want any beer made from Jewish blood!!!” one person wrote in a post, going on to curse the owners and call for a boycott of the pub. Other comments included “All proceeds go to terrorism,” and, “Let me know when you stop selling this beer so I’ll think about coming back.”
“It all started with two posts [by us] on Facebook,” says Leonid Lipkin, one of the three owners of Libira, which is located on Hanamal Street and open daily. “One was a post about how we we’re going to host beers from the Shepherds Brewery in Ramallah, and the second was a post we shared from that brewery – about the beer festival they were having in Ramallah. I just left it as was, without getting into any politics.”
Beers from different breweries are frequently featured at the Haifa bar, explains Lipkin, whether it’s beer from the West Bank, or the Judean Hills in Israel, or abroad. It's all part of the open approach he developed when running an earlier incarnation of Libira, which also went by that name.
Lipkin: “I thought it would be nice, as part of the concept of the place, for us to offer a changing selection of beers from other breweries. It’s also interesting to taste a different beer each time, and I thought this was important, too. And so natural – a good way to get to know the surroundings. The same kind of thing can happen with food from different places, through getting to know other people’s culture and customs, as well as by means of the beer they make. It’s all part of the same picture.
“When we opened the new place, there was no question that we would continue the tradition of featuring a selection of beers from guest breweries, and we did so from the start. In addition to our own five beers, we always offered different varieties from other breweries in Israel and abroad.”
Among the beers Lipkin's pub has offered are products of breweries like Srigim in the Elah Valley, southwest of Jerusalem; Dancing Camel in Tel Aviv; BrewDog in Scotland (“a real role model”); and beers from the Taybeh and Shepherds breweries, "which both happen to be in what’s known as ‘the territories’ or ‘Palestine’ or the ‘Palestinian Authority,’” as he puts it.
Once, he notes with some irony, he had to go to Tel Aviv to drink beer produced by the Taybeh Brewing Company – though he says he has had a long personal connection with its owners. Taybeh is a predominantly Christian village located northeast of Ramallah, and its brewery hosts an annual Oktoberfest event.
“Taybeh and Shepherds – they’re both breweries of our neighbors, and if they make good beer, I don’t see what the problem is with drinking it. In fact, I think we should all have a natural interest in the people around us, especially in Haifa, with its mixed population of Jews and Arabs," Lipkin continues. "As far as these breweries in the PA territory are concerned, it’s kind of sad, without getting into politics. Because who makes beer? The Christians. And one can imagine that they’re sort of stuck between a rock and a hard place.”
Without speculating further on why beer producers in the territories should be the target of so much criticism, he adds: “It seems so natural and obvious to me to want to know one’s neighbors, that it shouldn’t even need an explanation. And yes, the same goes for here, when some of the neighbors are Arabs.”
However, for some of those commenting after Libira's posts about offering Shepherds' beer, Palestinians are apparently enemies, first and foremost.
“You support the enemy and are proud of it! You’re the lowest of the low!” ranted one. “Keep on supporting Palestine,” protested another. “Whoever sells beer from the PA should be boycotted by Israel,” wrote another.
If this wasn't bad enough, angry commenters have also made sure to give the brewery a one-star (out of five) rating, and added a (Hebrew) tag: “Boycott Libira.” The pub's status began to be affected.
Still, despite everything, Lipkin seems to be quite calm (“Even though the racist and inciting comments are still trickling in”).
“Obviously, it’s not pleasant and of course I reported [the ratings] to Facebook,” he says. “But only about those who I knew for certain gave the pub a low rating just because of the recent events and not because they had a bad experience there. Still, I’d like to maintain an objective rating."
How can he know the reasons behind the different ratings? “It’s easy to tell, and not just because of the timing, but because the comments posted with these recent ratings directly indicated it – you can see the prejudice. They’re full of incitement and racism or, in the best case, pure rubbish. When you see something like, ‘We won’t drink beer that’s made from the blood of Jews’ – come on! And you know what? If we get less customers who think like that, we won’t really be sorry – the air in the place will be fresher,” says Lipkin, barely pausing for air himself.
“We usually love all our customers at Libira, but we don’t need everyone to come here. And the customers that we do want? They won’t let such reactions affect them, so we’ll keep on doing things the way we want to.”