On January 9, Teaneck Israeli restaurant Yalla experienced a sudden drop in its Google review ratings. A flood of one-star reviews with profane comments had appeared at the very top, bringing Yalla’s rating down by two full stars. But what was peculiar about these reviews was not their seemingly spontaneous appearance—it was that most of them included some form of anti-Zionist message, as well as the ubiquitous BDS hashtag, #FreePalestine. Reviews included discussions of “colonization” and “killing and destroying our people,” which addressed political concerns rather than the food or the restaurant. Some of the reviews were also food related, but falsified, and included accusations of health violations by people who don’t live locally who had likely never visited the restaurant.
The hateful reviews for Yalla are not anything new, owner Jacob Goldberg shared with The Jewish Link. “Yalla is an Arabic word, so that triggers attention,” he said. “Negative reviews have appeared periodically over the years, but I tend to ignore them and flag the hateful ones to Google.”
What made this incident unique was that beginning last Saturday night, Goldberg decided he had enough of the anti-Zionist negativity and responded to one of the reviews. Shortly after, Goldberg received a social media message from the pro-Palestinian reviewer, threatening, “Let me show you what I can do.” Within a few days, Yalla’s Google profile had been shared widely within pro-Palestinian circles, and the restaurant received hundreds of new negative reviews overnight. At its lowest, Yalla’s rating had dropped to 2.8 stars.
“When you get attacked in real life, you can call the police,” Goldberg shared. “When you get attacked online, nothing happens … it’s like the Wild West.”
He explained that when Google is notified of a hateful review, including content that is obviously biased in some way, the review is flagged and taken down. But if the review is at least vaguely related to the business, such as a food-related review for a restaurant, Google has no way of catching it.
Thanks to online Zionist activists, the smear campaign against Yalla was picked up quickly. Sharing a TikTok video from a pro-Palestinian activist who posts under the username @officiallyluluuu, Zionist influencers urged their followers to post as many positive reviews of Yalla as possible to turn the restaurant’s Google rating around. It helped that @officiallyluluuu’s video was quite disturbing, inciting anti-Israel hate and threatening that Yalla “messed with the wrong people”—and within hours of circulation, Yalla jumped from several hundred reviews to almost 3,000 reviews as of January 10. And thankfully, Yalla’s rating now appears at a nearly-perfect 4.9 stars.
“I really appreciate those who are coming to our defense,” Goldberg said.
The incident with Yalla highlights a much broader issue with the review system for businesses everywhere. “For a billion-dollar company, it’s crazy that Google does not pick up a sudden burst of hundreds of negative reviews. There needs to be a better way,” Goldberg said.
There needs to be a better way for Modern Bread & Bagel on the Upper West Side too, which has experienced the same influx of negative reviews, also spawned by pro-Palestinian activists. As of January 10, the gluten-free restaurant received several fake one-star reviews, which were reported to Google but not yet taken down by the automated system, despite being reported.
According to owner Orly Gottesman, one-star reviews of the restaurant are fairly rare, so she was tipped off when they received multiple in a matter of minutes. “This doesn’t happen all that often. We’ve only reported two reviews in the three years we’ve been open,” she shared.
“One-star reviews really affect small businesses,” Gottesman explained. “I encourage everyone to leave positive reviews whenever possible.”
In turn, Zionist activists have reacted the same way they did with Yalla—bombard the restaurant with positive five-star reviews to combat the negativity. Thanks to the strength and cooperation of the online Zionist community, both Yalla and Modern Bread & Bagel are standing tough against hate.
Channa Fischer reports on digital Jewish and Zionist advocacy. She resides in Washington Heights.