When Philly Palestine Coalition protestors targeted a Jewish-owned business on Sansom Street Sunday night — “Goldie, Goldie, you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide” they chanted — we were suddenly in Kristallnacht territory, with rabid mobs targeting Jewish shopkeepers. “How very 1933 of them,” read one tweet.
There is much to correct from the know-nothing crowd, like the absurd claim by protest organizers that Michael Solomonov’s Goldie and other such restaurants are “complicit in some degree in Israel’s system of occupation and apartheid.” To be clear: Solomonov, the most gentle and good-natured of souls, has had nothing to do with Israel’s bombing of Gaza and has simply contributed money to emergency relief efforts after Israel was attacked by Hamas. (The relief agency Goldie has donated to has made an exception to its regular practices by also providing supplies to the Israel Defense Forces.)
Nor does Israel’s retaliatory bombing — tragic and regrettable though it is — meet the UN’s definition of genocide. (In a territory of 2.2 million people, 15,000 collateral damage deaths — which includes the death of some percentage of the actual terrorists who attacked Israel on October 7 — does not amount to “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”)
“If you think Israel shouldn’t exist or everything Israeli should be boycotted, fine, argue that. But at least understand that food — like music, fashion, language and art — diffuses through cultures.” — Rob Eshman
Nor are the protestors’ calls for a ceasefire actually helping Gazans who are effectively held hostage by a terrorist organization — which, until October 7, was actually in cahoots with Israel’s government. Which raises the question: Why a ceasefire? Why not call for Hamas to surrender? Would that not benefit Palestinians the most, given that 67 percent of Gazans oppose the terrorist organization?
Finally, while the protestors chant about occupation, they gloss over the inconvenient fact that Israel doesn’t occupy Gaza, having given back some 9,000 settlements in 2005 in (what now turns out to be) an ill-fated land for peace deal. You know who doesn’t care about occupation? Hamas, which is an Islamic jihadist sect dedicated to eradicating the world of infidels. It tortures gays and lesbians and subjugates women. Its charter calls for the killing of Jews. On October 7, it didn’t target settlers on contested land; it murdered peacenik Israeli civilians. Given all of this, it’s a little hard to think of the protestors lining Sansom Street Sunday night, whether witting or not, as anything but pro-Hamas protestors.
But let’s zero in on one particular argument said pro-Hamas crowd is making: That chefs of Israeli cuisine like Solmonov are, in effect, practicing cultural appropriation. It’s a roiling debate. On one side, Israeli food is seen as a mashup of flavors and recipes that populated the full itinerary of the Jewish diaspora and that came of the same land as foods cooked by Arabs. The other side counters that Israeli chefs are colonizers who have appropriated Arab cuisine and are thereby killing off Palestinian culture.
Last summer, the issue came to a head at Melody wine bar and restaurant in Los Angeles. When its proprietors announced it would host “2 nights of dope music, Israeli food & natural wines,” things got nasty on social media. “What will they be serving? Colonized hummus and apartheid falafel? Please,” posted one follower. Another chimed in: “I’m sorry what the hell is Israeli food?! You mean culturally appropriated food from the people they are genociding? Shame on you @_melodyla_ I’ll make sure to never go back here again.”
In the aftermath of the Goldie protests, I was reminded of the Melody brouhaha, because of its owners’ response. They did … precisely nothing, just as Solomonov is doing, to his credit. They ignored the haters and instead went ahead with a joyful celebration of food as something — maybe the only thing — that can link cultures, rather than divide them. They posted that they have “a zero tolerance policy for xenophobia” and that “Melody is about community. Communities that may rarely cross paths interact here.”
In the end, hundreds of people showed up to break bread together and to learn about Israeli and Palestinian culture. As Rob Eshman, columnist for the Jewish Forward, wrote afterwards:
If you think Israel shouldn’t exist or everything Israeli should be boycotted, fine, argue that. But at least understand that food — like music, fashion, language and art — diffuses through cultures. And if you define Israeli cuisine as the foods cooked within a country, of course that includes traditional Arabic foods — the largest minority group in Israel is Palestinian Arabs. Israel is also 40 percent Jews from Muslim lands — who brought many Arab dishes with them, like shakshuka from Libya, which Palestinians themselves cook.
What is this all about?
But let’s widen the aperture of our lens even further. This is more than an argument over the provenance of hummus. The language of colonization and genocide and apartheid is all around us; how did this vituperative conversation even come to be?
As the journalist Eli Lake wrote in The Free Press, the intersectional left has adopted the teachings of Frantz Fanon, who could easily qualify as the father of what has come to be called Wokeness. Fanon was an Afro-Caribbean psychiatrist, political philosopher, and critical studies Marxist. His Wretched of the Earth has become the Bible for those who see everything as battle between oppressor and oppressed; he coined decolonization and lived experience and countless other slogans radicals by way of Scarsdale like to shout on Ivy League quads.
I’ve tried to wade through Fanon — who died in 1961, the same year Wretched of the Earth came out — and couldn’t do it. It was like reading Foucault, one of his intellectual progeny; have any of these self-righteous Marxists ever heard of irony? Or sentences that don’t tranquilize?
“One finds him in the syllabi for most of the ‘studies’: race, ethnicity, migration, colonialism, diaspora… For the pro-Hamas left, Fanon is not so much an intellectual as an oracle.” — Eli Lake
Yet here we are, with twenty-something protestors paying homage to an ideology they don’t even understand. (For example, today’s campus radicals love his justifications for violence in liberation movements, but they ignore his more complicated humanistic positions.) Worse, they disregard inconvenient facts when applying Fanon’s tenets. Yes, Israel’s West Bank settlements are an affront to peace and are deserving of widespread opprobrium. But Israel as colonial settler? You kind of have to have a homeland to return to in order to colonize, no?
Moreover, in its zero-sum moral universe — in which the powerful de facto oppress the powerless — Fanon’s writings have bequeathed to today’s intersectional left an ideology that, taken to the extreme, explains how someone like progressive Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal can so nonchalantly shrug off Hamas’s raping of women: “Sexual assault is horrific,” she said on CNN Sunday. “I think that it happens in war situations. Terrorist organizations like Hamas obviously are using these as tools. However, I think we have to be balanced about bringing in the outrages against Palestinians.”
Apparently, we believe all women, unless they’re Jews?
“It has become a part of the canon for undergraduates studying everything from the Middle East to comparative literature,” writes Lake of Fanon. “One finds him in the syllabi for most of the ‘studies’: race, ethnicity, migration, colonialism, diaspora. He is mandatory reading for many of the required courses university students must now take to graduate. For the pro-Hamas left, Fanon is not so much an intellectual as an oracle.”
Because there is no calculus other than power, Fanon tells us that, in war against a colonial oppressor, killing can be spiritually purifying. “At the individual level,” he writes, “violence is a cleansing force. It rids the colonized of their inferiority complex, of their passive and despairing attitude. It emboldens them, and restores their self-confidence.”
So that’s what October 7 really was — just Hamas exploring self-help, right?
Look, the Mideast quagmire is as complicated as it gets. Two peoples, both with indigenous claims to the same land. Generations of hatred and war and distrust. But surely our obligation is to look past the easy answers in search of real ones, no? For all his jargon, Fanon is simple, as simple as Che Guevara or early Malcolm X.
Chanting about genocide in front of a storefront owned by a Jew is more than just bigoted and stupid. It’s an affront to enlightenment values like tolerance and pluralism. It’s a primal scream that may lead you to believe you’re civically engaged, but what you’re really doing is just contributing more noise. Sit down. Shut up. Read a book.
MORE IMPACT OF THE ISRAEL-HAMAS WARThe scene in Center City along Walnut Street on the night of the protest.