June 21, 2024
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June 21, 2024
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‘Taste of Home Festival’ Gets a Taste of Online Intimidation

Editor’s note: In coming weeks, as Israel advocacy and advocates increase in relevance in the court of public opinion, we plan to bring our readers Channa Fischer’s continuing original reporting and analysis of the online world’s advocacy for Israel.

Is it really the “city of brotherly love”? This past weekend, Philadelphia became the newest site of anti-Zionist controversy, centered around a food festival in the city’s Kensington neighborhood. Hosted by Eat Up the Borders, in partnership with nonprofit organization Sunflower Philly, the “Taste of Home Festival” was to celebrate “diversity through food” by offering a site for local immigrant-owned food trucks with culinary treats from around the world.

Among the original attendees was Moshava Philly, owned by Israeli-born chef Nir Sheynfeld—that is, until Saturday, when Eat Up the Borders announced it would no longer be including the Israeli establishment in its festival, citing “community concerns.”

In the initial hours following the disinvitation, it was unclear whether the event organizers were to blame for an antisemitic singling-out and exclusion of the Israeli food truck. As the situation unfolded, however, leaders of both Eat Up the Borders and Sunflower Philly made it clear that they felt threatened by anti-Zionist activists who were planning violent protests at the festival site should Moshava attend. According to Moshava Philly, the organizers had “heard rumors of a protest happening because of us being there and decided to uninvite us from fear that the protesters would get aggressive and threaten their event.”

In a statement on its Facebook and Instagram accounts, Moshava Philly’s owners said that they were “deeply saddened” by Eat Up the Borders’ decision, asserting that “fear, violence and intimidation got the best of them.”

According to their statement posted to Instagram, which has since been deleted, Eat Up the Borders explained that the decision to exclude Moshava Philly was made “in order to provide the best experience to all.” The statement continued: “Our intent is never to cause any harm. We’re sorry, and we realize being more educated is the first step in preventing that from happening again.”

The outrage, however, went well beyond just a few official statements. Eat Up the Borders’ statement, as well as its counterpart from Sunflower Philly, went viral amongst pro-Zionist activists online, with over 4,500 comments on Facebook and many more tweets and Instagram stories calling out covert antisemitism.

Among these virtual Zionist advocates were various influential voices and organizations—the Anti-Defamation League, Jewish Community Relations Council of Philadelphia, and the local Jewish Federation, to name a few—as well as vocal Jewish social media influencers.

“…The decision to bow to this antisemitic intimidation by disinviting Moshava was wrong. In the next few days, we will be meeting with the organizers to discuss what happened, provide education on antisemitism and share communal security resources,” tweeted the ADL on June 20. “We look forward to future events where the Moshava food truck, and other Jewish and Israeli ethnic foods, are welcomed and enjoyed by all.”

“When #EatUpTheBorders in Philly cower to antisemites & ban the only #Israel-owned food truck from their community event meant to celebrate ‘diversity,’ they only empower bigots, no matter how they couch their decision,” international human rights lawyer Arsen Ostrovsky sent out to his 85,000 followers on Twitter.

Jewish foodie Danielle Renov, author of popular cookbook “Peas, Love & Carrots,” commented on Moshava Philly’s announcement of the disinvitation on Instagram: “This is completely sickening. [The organizers] should be ashamed of yourselves for taking this hateful stance and even more ashamed that you think it’s so acceptable to do that [you’re] not even embarrassed to post about it.”

Thanks in part to these social media fighters, who came out in droves to defend Moshava Philly, the “Taste of Home” festival was canceled entirely; it became clear that the event organizers had gravely mismanaged their approach to standing up for Moshava Philly’s right to attend the festival and were not sure how else to proceed. It was their taste of a much broader ongoing virtual conflict between Zionists and their foes.

On Sunday, the day the festival was supposed to take place, Moshava said in a statement: “Although we were disappointed with how the situation was greatly mishandled, we do not believe the organizers’ intention came from an antisemitic place but the threats they were receiving to their event were. Our shared goal for the future is to steer away from (violence) and hatred and be able to share a platform with all members of our community and collectively share our cultures.”

Back on social media, the event cancelation did not quiet the backlash. On Sunflower Philly’s Instagram announcement regarding the termination, “Jew in the City” Allison Josephs commented: “Why do inclusive spaces not include Jews? For what other minority is inclusion ‘complicated?’ If you don’t educate yourself by speaking to Jews and learning why this kind of cowardice puts us at risk, you have no business claiming to be a nonprofit dedicated to diversity and inclusion.” Josephs was among thousands of others on social media who drove the point that the event’s organizers could do better than just back away from the conversation entirely.

As Eat Up the Borders and Sunflower Philly quickly learned, Zionist activists are not ready to back off the conversation any time soon. Within the last five years or so, the fight for Zionism has seen a dramatic shift, modernizing itself to take place mostly online, and advocates have taken to the front lines of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram—and even TikTok. This exact phenomenon was incredibly relevant in the most recent conflict between Israel and pro-Palestinians, where it seemed that the anti-Zionists were “winning” with the sheer number of virtual voices speaking up on social media, despite different outcomes on the physical battleground.

It is unclear whether this particular battle over the “Taste of Home Festival” was won; there was no event in the end, after all. But thanks to the thousands of passionate social media activists, our Zionist “frontline fighters,” the dialogue is moving forward.

Stay with us as we feature some of these online Zionist activists in the coming weeks as part of our “Frontline Fighters of Zionism” series. In the mounting war for Jewish inclusion, which has no plans of slowing down, these virtual voices are more important than ever. Let us amplify them and make them heard.

Channa Fischer reports on digital Jewish and Zionist advocacy. She resides in Washington Heights.

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