Toronto restaurant uses ‘zionistsnotwelcome’ hashtag

Foodbenders’ owner Kimberly Hawkins in recent days has doubled down on her support for the Palestinian cause evident in her social media feeds by decorating her store window. (Foodbenders/Instagram)

By Marcy Oster (JTA) — A Toronto health food restaurant with a history of social media posts considered anti-Semitic has come under fire for using the hashtag “zionistsnotwelcome” on Twitter.

The owner of Foodbenders says, however, there’s a distinction between Zionists and the Jewish people. Kimberly Hawkins said in a post on Instagram that Jews “are welcome in my store.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center doesn’t see it that way.

“By stating that Zionists are not welcome to its store, this business is basically stating that Jewish people are not welcome,” Rabbi Meyer May, the center’s executive director, said in a statement. “This is clear anti-Semitism, extremely discriminatory and unacceptable.”

Hawkins counters: “When I’m making a statement about Zionism, I am not referring to Jewish people,” she told BlogTO. “It’s about the state government.”

Further explaining her distinction between Jews and Zionists, she wrote on Instagram: “I love Jewish people and they are welcome in my store. I have never said anything about Jewish people.”

The move apparently has cost business for Hawkins: This week, Uber Canada and Ritual terminated their delivery agreements with the restaurant and caterer. The Ambrosia Natural Foods chain announced that it would no longer carry Foodbender products in its locations.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Hawkins posted on Instagram an arson and death threat sent through the company’s website.

Still, Hawkins has doubled down on her support for Palestinian causes evident in her social media account. In recent days, she adorned her store window with a large Palestinian flag in addition to the “I (heart) Palestine” sign that was already hung there, and covered her store’s sign with a banner reading “Free Palestine.”

Previous Foodbenders social media posts have said “police brutality is an Israeli export” and “Zionists are Nazis,” and included hashtags that appear to encourage violence in Israel such as #fromtherivertothesea and #intifada.

In response, the Canadian branch of the Jewish Defense League, which Hawkins refers to as “extremely dangerous alt right Zionists,” picketed in front of the store on Sunday. In addition, video showed a woman painting a Star of David on the door of the store over the weekend.

On Saturday, some 200 pro-Palestinian demonstrators held a Day of Rage event in front of the store to protest Israel’s stated plan to annex parts of the West Bank. The protesters accused “Zionists” of brutality and genocide and called for companies to divest from Israel, the Toronto Sun reported.

According to the report, members of the Black Lives Matter movement told the crowd that they were engaged in the same fight and they should work together against white supremacists and to abolish the police.

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