Antisemitism or a legitimate act of protest? The removal of a food truck selling “Israeli-inspired cuisine” from a local Philadelphia festival has reawakened a fierce debate among the American left when it comes to distinguishing between the two.
Even the most pointed critics of Israeli policy took issue when Eat Up the Borders, an organization whose stated mission is to “help promote small, family, or immigrant owned businesses,” announced that Moshava Philly – a local food truck founded by Israeli-born chef Nir Sheynfeld – would no longer be included in Sunday’s “Taste of Home” festival, which celebrates “diversity through food.” Following the controversy, the entire festival was canceled.
Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, tweeted, “For those wondering where the line is between criticizing Israel & antisemitism, this is an example that definitely steps over the line – discriminating against Israeli American Jews.” She added that “there's a difference between boycotting a country & boycotting individuals based on national origin.”
While Jacobs does not support or participate in the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, she says she is a staunch defender of the right to boycott as “an essential component of democracy, a basic human right, and a fundamental value of Judaism.”
Peter Beinart, an author and journalist for Jewish Currents, tweeted that he “100%” concurred with Jacobs. “Whatever your politics on Israel-Palestine, discriminating against a food truck owner because he's an American of Israeli descent is anti-Semitism, pure and simple,” he wrote.
Beinart, too, has never explicitly endorsed BDS, though he supports boycotting settlement products and conditioning U.S. military aid on Israeli behavior.
The backlash against the two high-profile leftists from fellow activists on the left came fast and furious on social media, defending the decision to remove the truck on the grounds that the truck represented Israeli “appropriation” of Palestinian cuisine. Several pointed to the fact that Sheynfeld had served in the Israeli army, and that he and his business posted pro-Israel messages and hashtags on social media.
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One user tweeted in response to Jacobs' statement: “Lib zionists at it again.” Another wrote, in response to Beinart, that the name of the food truck, “Moshava,” means that the truck is “literally named after early Zionist colonies" and that is one reason why it's “perfectly reasonable and good” to exclude it.
Mitchell Plitnick, who formerly served both as co-director of Jewish Voice for Peace and the U.S. representative of B’Tselem, tweeted that the decision was not antisemitic. The truck was not excluded because its operators were Jewish, he stated, calling the move an “overreaction.”
“It was banned because of the controversy over #Israel, particularly, in this case, the expropriation of Arab cuisine,” Plitnick tweeted. He added, “This idea that in this one political context every overreaction is antisemitism is reductive and dangerous. This had nothing to do with anyone's Jewish identity. It was still the wrong thing to do. It was absolutely NOT antisemitism.”
The heated exchanges recall previous debates that exposed divides in U.S. Jewish leftist circles. Last September, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez canceled her appearance at an Americans for Peace Now event for late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, following backlash from BDS activists who said the move represented “total contempt for Palestinian lives.”
Rabin, famous for his “iron fist” policies toward Palestinians, was assassinated in 1995 following his decision to move toward compromise and negotiation late in his political career. Ocasio-Cortez’s cancellation triggered arguments between the far-left Jews who influenced the decision and liberal Zionists who were disappointed by it.
In 2017, there were back-and-forth exchanges among left-wing Jews after three people were banned from the annual Chicago Dyke March because they were carrying Jewish Pride flags, because the flags “made people feel unsafe,” and because the march was “pro-Palestinian” and “anti-Zionist.” The organizers explained that they wanted the march to be free of symbols that could “inadvertently or advertently express Zionism."
The following year, the march included Palestinian flags. Subsequently, the Washington D.C. sister march explicitly banned Jewish and Israeli symbols.
The Chicago Dyke March was called out on social media Monday for an Instagram post publicizing its 2021 march on Instagram with a cartoon that showed a marcher burning the American and Israeli flags.
Subsequently, the cartoon was altered to show flames covering the insignias on the flags.