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Hate or just a crime? Either way, Jewish restaurants are finding support after vandalism

(JTA) — On a Saturday in late November, vandals smashed the front entrance of Pita Grill, a kosher restaurant in New York’s Upper East Side, and stole e-bikes in front of the restaurant. 

Law enforcement quickly concluded that it was not a hate crime, but a standard robbery. The restaurant was closed for Shabbat at the time of the break-in. But rumors quickly swirled that the Middle Eastern eatery was the target of an antisemitic attack. Prominent Jewish influencers shared videos of the attack on social media and asked followers to support the restaurant. Many showed up.

“We never know people’s motives and if their intention was, ‘Oh, this is a kosher restaurant, there’s a scooter there, I’m gonna take advantage and hurt them and this is a good target,’” Elan Kornblum, creator of the 98,000-member Facebook group Great Kosher Restaurant Foodies, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. 

“We’re kind of walking around thinking that people are out to get us and if there’s a crime that it must be antisemitic,” he added. “We’re all on edge.”

Pita Grill, which did not respond to JTA requests for comment, is one of a series of kosher restaurants nationwide that have seen outpourings of public support in the wake of vandalism or break-ins since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, which triggered a spike in antisemitic incidents around the world. Law enforcement has concluded that some of these incidents were hate crimes, while others were not. Still others are under investigation. 

Some of the incidents are clearly antisemitic in nature. A string of restaurant attacks has drawn widespread attention over the past two months. 2nd Avenue Deli, a kosher restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, was vandalized with a swastika in late October. Canter’s Deli in Los Angeles was also vandalized with a swastika, launching a hate crime investigation by the Los Angeles Police Department. Earlier this week, pro-Palestinian protesters in Philadelphia accused a falafel restaurant of “genocide.”

Other attacks have fallen in a vast gray area where the question of antisemitism may be in the eye of the beholder. Caffe Aronne, also on the Upper East Side, saw a bump in business after reports that baristas quit en masse over the war — though what actually took place appears to be murkier.

And a kosher pizza restaurant in Skokie, Illinois was tagged with a symbol that included a swastika in it; law enforcement later contended that it was not a hate crime because it was a gang symbol belonging to the Maniac Latin Disciples, a street gang from Chicago founded in the 1960s by someone named Albert “King Hitler” Hernandez. The restaurant did not return JTA calls for comment.

At Sushi Tokyo, a kosher eatery in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, a vandal threw a chair past a waiter wearing a kippah and smashed a window of an outdoor dining shed. The incident is still under investigation, but one patron of the restaurant said she felt a climate of fear there.

“I noticed everyone is in caps, hiding their yarmulkes, which people would not normally do,” said Adie Horowitz, who went to Sushi Tokyo with a friend following the vandalism in order to show support. 

Rachel Sass, an analyst at the ADL Center on Extremism, explained that Jews’ personal experience of antisemitism doesn’t always match up with what law enforcement concludes. Even if an incident isn’t a hate crime, she suggested, it may feel like a hate crime.

“We’re trying to see and hear and represent the feelings of our constituency, which we consider to be the entire Jewish community in the United States,” she said. “We try to really hear and reflect and validate these feelings that people have, even if that sometimes is a different conclusion than law enforcement comes to.”

Customers pack into Caffe Aronne in the Upper East Side after staff members quit due to the store’s pro-Israel activities, Nov. 7, 2023. (Luke Tress)

In some cases, restaurateurs say police have prematurely dismissed evidence of antisemitism. In early November, Taste of Tel Aviv in Houston was hit by what police called a burglary that did not look like a hate crime.

“Based on the preliminary investigation and evidence review, it appears that this incident was not motivated by hate,” said a Nov. 7 statement by Houston Police. “It is believed to be the work of a lone individual who was burglarizing the business and trying to steal anything of value before fleeing the scene.”

But the owners do believe hate was at play. During the weeks leading up to the break-in, the restaurant had prominently displayed an Israeli flag, and owner Pamela Baylis told local press that she had also received a bomb threat.

Baylis, who is not Jewish and co-owns the restaurant with Gabi Algrably, who is, told JTA she does not believe the incident was solely a burglary. She said the perpetrator destroyed prayer books and stole kippahs, tefillin and ceramics made by local children featuring Stars of David. He also urinated in the restaurant, she said. 

“The man threw $578 on the floor. He took no money with him. He left all the cash behind. All he did was destroy religious items,” she said. “He took the stuff that the guys wrap around their arms and put on their head.”

The burglary investigation is ongoing and the local Jewish federation told JTA it is in communication with the Houston Police Department and is advocating for the police to continue investigating all options — including hate crimes. The Houston Police Department did not respond to JTA’s requests for updates on the case. 

“We have no criticism of HPD, we just want to make sure that they are doing all that they can to investigate possible hateful incidents,” a spokesperson for the federation said.

Taste of Tel Aviv has also had a slew of negative reviews on its Facebook page, a tactic several Jewish and Israeli restaurants have been facing since Oct. 7. On Google Maps, all three Falafel Yoni locations across the border in Montréal have close to a five-star average rating. But starting about five weeks ago, they began receiving an onslaught of one-star reviews — about 20 of them within one or two days — co-owner Yoni Amir said. 

At least one of those reviews — which have since been deleted by Google after they were reported — combined a critique of the “tasteless” food with an accusation that the restaurant was passing off Palestinian cuisine as Israeli. “Did you know it’s a palestinian dish or you are going to appropriate it just like everything else?” the review said.

The falafel restaurant — along with a pizza restaurant Amir owns — has also been put on multiple online boycott lists together with other Jewish- and Israeli-owned restaurants in the area. (A similar list exists of “Zionist restaurants” in New York City that was compiled into a Google Map, which was then removed from the app.) Vandals have also placed stickers and posters on Falafel Yoni, charging its owners with genocide.

“The only reason my restaurants are being targeted are because A, I was born in Israel and because B I’m Jewish,” Amir told JTA. “There’s no other reason — there’s nothing from a political stance or anything like that — that separates my restaurants from a neighboring restaurant who isn’t being targeted for the posters.”

Sass said that when looking at the landscape of attacks on restaurants, she tries to be “fact-based” in her assessment. But she added that sifting through which attacks are clear-cut antisemitism and which are not can be challenging when people’s emotions and perceptions are at play. 

“People’s experience of antisemitism can be very subjective,” she said. “It’s important for people to feel validated when they’re experiencing this harm.”

The post Hate or just a crime? Either way, Jewish restaurants are finding support after vandalism appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Russia Extends Invitation to Palestinian Factions for Talks in Moscow

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. Photo: Reuters/Maxim Shemetov

i24 NewsRussia has extended invitations to various Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Fatah, for discussions on the Israel-Hamas conflict and broader issues in the Middle East.

Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov announced the initiative on Friday, highlighting Moscow’s desire to engage with all major players in the region amid heightened tensions.

The invitation included a dozen Palestinian groups and is slated for “inter-Palestinian” talks scheduled to commence on February 29.

Bogdanov, serving as President Vladimir Putin’s special envoy for the Middle East, emphasized the inclusivity of the invitation, stating, “We invited all Palestinian representatives — all political forces that have their positions in different countries, including Syria, Lebanon, and other countries in the region.”

Among the invitees are Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, alongside representatives of Fatah and the broader Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

The invitation comes at a critical juncture as the Israel-Hamas conflict continues to escalate, drawing international attention and concern. Russia’s proactive stance in convening discussions reflects its growing criticism of Israel and its Western allies, underscoring Moscow’s efforts to assert its influence in the region.

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Netanyahu: Those Who Want us to Desist from Rafah Op Are Telling Us to Lose

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a press conference with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Cabinet Minister Benny Gantz in the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, Israel, Oct. 28, 2023. Photo: ABIR SULTAN POOL/Pool via REUTERS

i24 NewsHamas drops its “delusional” demands, productive hostage talks could begin, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday, stressing Israel would not agree to the terror group’s current demands.

WATCH: PM Netanyahu delivers a statement after Hamas suspended negotiations

— i24NEWS English (@i24NEWS_EN) February 17, 2024

“I insist that Hamas should abandon its delusional demands – and when it does, we will be able to move forward,” Netanyahu said in a statement live on TV.

“Those who want us to desist from the Rafah operation,” the leader said in an apparent reference to the U.S. administration of President Joe Biden, “are telling us we should lose. We won’t be dictated to.”

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Iran Unveils New Air Defense Weaponry

Iran’s Defense Minister Brigadier General Mohammad-Reza Ashtiani speaks at a press conference during the unveiling of a new surface-to-surface 4th generation Khorramshahr ballistic missile. Photo: Reuters/West Asia News Agency

i24 NewsIran demonstrated new weaponry on Saturday, including what it said was the locally made Arman anti-ballistic missile system and the Azarakhsh low-altitude air defense system, said the official IRNA news agency. Saturday’s unveiling ceremony of the two vehicle-mounted systems was held in the presence of Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Ashtiani.

“With the entry of new systems into the country’s defense network, the air defense capability of the Islamic Republic of Iran will increase significantly,” said IRNA.

Video of the new Azarakhsh SHORAD engaging a target drone

It’s radar has a detection range of 50km, with 25km for it’s EO/IR suite

— Iran Defense|نیروهای مسلح جمهوری اسلامی ایران (@IranDefense) February 17, 2024

The Arman missile system is said to be able to “simultaneously confront six targets at a distance of 120 to 180 km,” while the Azarakhsh missile system “can identify and destroy targets up to a range of 50 km with four ready-to-fire missiles.”

The announcement comes amid tensions across the Middle East, with Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis attacking vessels linked to the United States, UK and Israel in the Red Sea in a show of solidarity with the Gaza Strip.

Iran unveils domestically-manufactured Arman anti-ballistic missile and Azarakhsh low-altitude air defense system

— Press TV (@PressTV) February 17, 2024

The U.S. and its allies in the Middle East are concerned with Iran’s growing role at the international global arms market, The Wall Street Journal said on Friday. The transformation of the industry, boosted by Russia’s “purchase of thousands of drones that altered the battlefield in Ukraine, has helped Tehran scale up its support of militia allies in Middle East conflicts,” read the report.

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