Previously, I reported on the recent cancellations of three pinkwashing events that were originally scheduled for Seattle, Tacoma, and Olympia, Washington.
As these cancellations were being announced last week, reports were also coming in about an alarming yet puzzling boycott against an Olympia Jewish deli.
Kitzel’s Crazy Delicious Delicatessen is a new establishment that opened in downtown Olympia last December, serving Eastern European Jewish food. Kitzel’s was originally scheduled on March 15 to host an event with four LGBT and LGBT-ally Israelis, titled “Rainbow Generations.” However, the event, which was to be the second Kitzel’s event sponsored by the multimillion-dollar pro-Israel organization StandWithUs, was cancelled two days prior.
The first news of the cancellation appeared on March 14 on JTNews (“The Voice of Jewish Washington”), where it was explained:
A Thursday evening event scheduled in Olympia at Kitzel’s Delicatessen was cancelled after owner Hava Aviv said she has been losing customers due to her hosting of Israel-focused events.
“We’ve gotten several warnings from friends that there are people who are beginning to boycott our business,” Aviv told JTNews.
The speakers will now appear at Temple Beth Hatfiloh.
Though the deli has been open for a few months — Aviv opened it in response to the boycott of Israeli products at the Olympia Food Co-op — she said she has been forced to lay off staff due to what she called intimidation within the community by co-op supporters.
“I’m not this rock-solid Zionist,” Aviv said. “But that’s what Olympia has turned me into.”
The following day, StandWithUs issued its own announcement, titled “Olympia Deli Needs Our Help!”:
The anti-Israel boycott activists in Olympia have targeted Kitzel’s Delicatessen for boycott because they are willing to host pro-Israel speakers and they sell Israeli goods!
Just this week, anti-Israel intolerance showed its ugly face in Olympia, Washington. For those who don’t know, Olympia, Washington, is a center of anti-Israel activity. It’s a place where college professors don’t speak openly of their support for Israel because they may lose researchand that the college divest its endowment from companies doing business with or in Israel.[sic]
Kitzel’s Deli offered to work with StandWithUs to host speakers from Israel who were to talk about their lives, about their community, about the progressive nature of Israel.
Because Kitzel offered to host these Israeli speakers, BDS supporters are attempting to bully the deli. They’ve threatened to protest, boycott and to cause economic damage to stop Israeli voices from being heard in Olympia. Already, Kitzel’s weekly sales have fallen 50 percent and they’ve had to lay off half their staff.
The boycott activists in Olympia call themselves open-minded and liberal. But for people who claim to be liberal, to be open minded, their actions show them to be the most close minded, trying to silencing dialog and deny anyone with whom they disagree the right to speak. Apparently the only perspective that BDS activists will tolerate is their own perspective. Their actions are the most undemocratic – an unbridled, unapologetic attempt to deny Israelis and Israel’s supporters the right to speak and be heard.
Don’t let them succeed! Help keep Kitzel’s Delicatessen open!
“Intimidation” by “co-op supporters”? “Bullying” and threats of “economic damage” against Kitzel’s? Skeptical of this story, I contacted several Olympia activists and asked them if they or anyone they knew was organizing a boycott campaign against Kitzel’s. All of them said no and expressed the same bewilderment I had upon hearing of this.
By March 16, however, the JTNews article had changed. Where previously the article had blamed “intimidation” against Kitzel’s on “supporters” of the Olympia Food Co-op, it now attributed the intimidation to no specific group, and a correction was noted:
Note: This article was corrected to remove a reference to who was intimidating Kitzel’s Delicatessen. Owner Hava Aviv tells JTNews that she believes it is individuals in Olympia who are unaffiliated with any specific group or organization. JTNews regrets the error.
The boycott rumor spreads on the internet
As the story made its way through the internet—largely on the basis of the StandWithUs announcement—the headlines started sounding even more alarmist:
“BDS bullies target Olympia deli”
“BDSers target unabashedly liberal Jewish deli in Olympia, WA”
“Jewish-Israeli business boycotted and harmed in Washington by BDS brigade”
“Jewish boycotts: It could never happen here?”
The first headline was accompanied with the following comparison:
The photo on the right shows Olympia residents expressing their support for the Olympia Food Co-op outside of the courthouse where the Co-op was being sued on behalf of StandWithUs for boycotting Israeli products. The juxtaposition seemed awkward enough without the Norman Finkelstein quote attached to it.
Meanwhile, on the Kitzel’s Facebook page, new supporters from around the world were adding comments:
“Thanks for standing with Israel and free speech.”
“Keep the opportunities for dialogue open, despite the BDS McCarthyists.”
“And thank you so much for being brave in the face of bullying”
“Thank you for supporting Israel, Keep up the good work.”
“We stand with Kitzel’s as Kitzel’s Stands With Us.”
Individual refusals to patronize
Although I could find no one organizing a boycott campaign against Kitzel’s, I was aware that some people personally chose not to patronize the deli due to disagreement with its politics. I was also aware of sentiment from some Jewish critics of Israel who felt uncomfortable being in a Jewish space that was so openly pro-Israel.
An earlier JTNews article had called Kitzel’s “a Jewish deli in Olympia to counter the Olympia Food Co-op’s boycott of Israeli products,” and described a fundraising email from Kitzel’s that contained the subject: “Please Help Olympia WA stand up to boycott of Israeli Goods.”
Another article reported that “Kitzel’s—like the Food Co-op—will carry socially sustainable products, but it will specifically include sustainable products from Israel.” Aside from the political act of deliberately sourcing Israeli goods, importing products from 10,000 miles away could hardly be considered “sustainable.”
Then on February 23, Kitzel’s hosted an event that featured two StandWithUs speakers who were touring the Northwest to counter Israeli Apartheid Week. The event was held on the same day as the first hearing in the lawsuit against the Olympia Food Co-op—a lawsuit that also happened to be coordinated with StandWithUs.
The culmination of these statements and actions seemed to indicate a clear political position for Kitzel’s that was against the Olympia Food Co-op and its boycott of Israeli goods.
However, that some people would decide on their own, without coordination with others, not to patronize a business—whether due to political disagreement, or an objection to where or how products are sourced, or even because of poor customer service—is not the same as an organized boycott.
Photos from Kitzel’s website
An interview with Kitzel’s proprietor Hava Aviv
I contacted Hava Aviv, one of the owners of Kitzel’s, who was the reported source for the JTNews and StandWithUs reports. I knew Hava, and she agreed to speak to me after I assured her that I would be careful not to take her words out of context.
Although she expressed opinions and interpretations that I disagreed with, I leave them unchallenged below, as our conversation was not intended to be a debate but rather to have her explain both the story of the alleged boycott and the politics of Kitzel’s in her own words.
Hava described to me how the boycott allegations came about:
Over the course of several days, many conversations came to my table. No organization or group approached me. I was very clear with this with JTNews. I was very clear with this with StandWithUs. I’ll be very clear with this with you: no group or organization came to me.
Concerned individuals came to me with a plethora of opinions—many opinions. People came and said, “Hava, we are very concerned that you are hosting StandWithUs events, and we are very concerned that if you continue to host StandWithUs events, that groups will begin to organize to boycott Kitzel’s.” This is what caused the cancellation of the event. I cannot survive a boycott. [Kitzel’s is] three months old. I cannot survive a boycott.
So when someone comes to me and says we have concerns about this, we think that this might happen, this is the thing that Irina [Hava’s co-proprietor] and I thought that we needed to listen to.
Nobody came to me and said that they will boycott. People came to me and said they are concerned that if you continue to host these types of events, that a boycott will emerge.
A few days before the scheduled “Rainbow Generations” event, Hava met with a group of three individuals who were concerned about StandWithUs’s pinkwashing. The meeting was described as “cordial” and “non-threatening” by the participants, including Hava.
[The three people mentioned above] said we already know of individuals who will not patronize—individuals, not groups. I’m not talking about affiliations or groups. They said we, including ourselves, have not patronized your business and know of other people that won’t patronize your business because of these [StandWithUs] events.
That’s not an organized boycott. That’s individuals saying, “We have chosen not to patronize your business because you host these events.”
I read from the StandWithUs announcement about Kitzel’s being boycotted and asked for Hava’s response.
You’ll have to bring that up with the people that published that.
It was very short notice that I was giving [StandWithUs] to cancel the event. And we called to cancel the event because we felt our business had the potential to be threatened and boycotted. We canceled for that. We wouldn’t be able to recover from it. The message came across loud and clear.
It was not just the three individuals [mentioned above]. It was many other individuals. A very close friend said, “I am very, very concerned. Very concerned about this.” And it feels like a threat. I’m not saying she is threatening me. I’m not saying an organization is threatening me. I’m not saying a group of people is threatening me. It feels threatening. It feels like a threat to the business. And it’s a threat that we are not able to recover from.
Concerning the correction that appeared in JTNews:
They published part of the correction, but not all of it. I’ve been playing phone tag with both organizations [JTNews and StandWithUs] to try and get it clear. But I work 12–16 hours a day. Sometimes it’s very difficult.
Although Hava generally did not want to identify those who had spoken to her, she did provide an example:
I do want to be clear that it was not just a friend that came to us being very concerned and not just the three people that we both know. Many, many people have come to say—I mean if you look on Facebook, there’s a woman on there named Olga that says that she won’t come because we carry Israeli goods…
The woman in question, Olga Rose, had made the following comment on Facebook:
…i don’t understand why a deli would go out of its way to buy israeli goods, advertise trips to israel, and host a stand with us event. it’s really sad too because when i went there i was so happy to get some of my childhood food, but then i looked at the pickled mushrooms i bought, and they were from israel and then i looked to the left when paying for my food and there was a poster suggesting a trip to israel and then i heard of the stand with us event and that was it for me, i can’t stand foot in there without cringing…
Olga, an Olympia resident of Jewish descent who was born in Moscow, explained to me that she had grown up on Eastern European Jewish foods. She described her first visit to Kitzel’s as being “in an almost euphoric state,” excited to revisit the “stuff I ate when I was a kid.”
However, she was overwhelmed by what she felt was strong pro-Israel sentiment and decided not to return to Kitzel’s.
Near the end of our conversation, Hava stressed the extent of her various conversations with people concerned about Kitzel’s hosting StandWithUs.
I do hope that you will say that individuals have come to us to say these things. Not groups, and I’m very clear about it. I was clear about it with JTNews and StandWithUs. Not groups—not one group or organization has approached us, but individuals have approached us with language that feels threatening about an impending boycott. Not through groups.
So there have been individuals saying they would start a boycott?
No, not that they would actively start one, no.
But that they personally wouldn’t patronize your business?
And that they would encourage others to do the same. And that feels threatening. That’s where the word “threat” came from. That feels threatening.
Did they come to you saying this?
Three of them did, yes, together. Not the ones that we’ve named, but others, yes. Three of them came together. But they did not come representing an organization.
Did they come to you with a demand?
[They said] if you continue to host events like this, then this is what will happen, and we will tell other people. And in my book, that feels like a threat.
Working with StandWithUs
The first StandWithUs event at Kitzel’s was held on February 23 and featured two Israeli speakers: Ran Bar-Yoshafat, who is the 2012 StandWithUs Northwest “Shaliach;” and Rania Fadel, a StandWithUs Fellow whose identity as a Druze is a focal point in her talks. At the time, they were touring the Northwest to counter Israeli Apartheid Week.
StandWithUs has no official presence in Olympia, but it has a regional office 60 miles north, in Seattle. I asked Hava how her venue came to host StandWithUs events.
We were handed a list of events by StandWithUs. We chose the ones that we thought would be appropriate for our community. And no other organization has approached us to say can we hold events here.
So StandWithUs gave you a list?
Yeah, and we chose a couple of events that we thought would be appropriate. So the Ran & Rania event was one, and then the “Rainbow Generations” was the other. We felt that they were appropriate. Like the information that StandWithUs gave to us—we were like, “Oh, these things are appropriate.”
Ran & Rania spoke in Seattle, and they also spoke in Portland, and then [StandWithUs] contacted us and asked us if we would be willing to host them, and they asked us I think two days before the event. We didn’t have a lot of time, you know, before the event. And I had the information that I had to work off of, and I actually thought that it was a good event to have. It was good to hear what these people have to say.
I hear what you have to say abut StandWithUs. I hear what you have to say about them as an organization. I’m talking about these two Israelis that I met, and Ran was a very good speaker.
Was this your first interaction with StandWithUs?
No, I think there’s been other contacts with them, but I can’t give you any dates or context or anything, you know, because they’ve been involved in Olympia for a while. So I don’t remember when my first contact with them was or who it was.
I’m not aware of it. Let me tell you what I do: I work 80 hours a week, six days a week, from anywhere between 4:00 and 6:00 in the morning until 9:00 at night. I can’t tell you the last time that I actually got together with a friend and had a conversation. I haven’t done dishes in two weeks; I haven’t done laundry in two weeks. I’m very disconnected from anything outside of the deli.
I have to be completely honest. I’m so overworked and tired, that I’m very disconnected from the outside world. So if it was intentional on someone else’s behalf, fine, give them credit for it. It wasn’t intentional on our behalf at all.
If you had known that StandWithUs was connected to the lawsuit against the Co-op, would you still have hosted it?
I think that I would’ve because I felt that Ran and Rania were good speakers, and the topic was a good topic.
I told [the group of three individuals who met with Hava about the pinkwashing event] that if they had some ideas about having some pro-Jewish events—and by pro-Jewish I just mean, like, enough with the “anti.” Something that had something like, “not all Jews are bad.” Not all Israelis are bad. Being Jewish is not bad, you know? If we could have some type of “Jewish presence” event. If they had any idea, to come to the table and talk to us and let’s make an event.
Our discussion moved to the “Rainbow Generations” event that was cancelled.
I will also go on record for this—and this is probably a very dangerous move—I don’t know if I agree with the “pinkwashing” thing. I have to do more research. I have to have more information because right now, I’m not completely convinced.
This is how Irina and I understand it and how I feel about it, and how I still feel about it because I don’t have enough information to be able to have like a solid slot on it. So it’s a feeling, or an opinion.
What I hear is Israel can do no good as long as there’s conflict. That no matter what literacy programs they have, no matter what homeless outreach programs they have, no matter what education programs they have, no matter what queer programs they have—that all of them are in vain as long as there’s conflict. And this I feel is a dangerous opinion to be giving to the general population. And I think that it is fostering the room for general opinion to be hateful toward an entire country.
I responded to Hava by telling her about how StandWithUs has previously exploited queer issues.
I can listen to it, I can hear you, but I don’t have anything in front of me to see it. So I don’t have enough information to formulate an educated opinion. My uneducated opinion is that we thought that as queer Jews that it would be a good event.
What I have told everyone is that we invite people to bring events to our table. Thus far, StandWithUs is the only organization that has brought them to the table. I don’t have enough money or enough time to be able to go to Israel to meet Israelis and have conversations with Israelis and find ones and then fly them to the United States for an event at the deli, you know? I would love to be able to be in a position to be able to do that, but I can’t.
Loss of sales
We discussed the 50% loss of sales that was reported by StandWithUs, and which was implied to be due to boycott activity.
The other big thing that [StandWithUs] had asked us—and there could be many different analytics for it—but our sales have dropped in half since the [February 23] Ran & Rania event. If I pull out all of the receipts and I look at the amount of daily sales that we were doing before the event, and the daily sales that we were doing after the event, they have diminished by half.
I had nearly 50% cuts in almost all of my departments in the past month. These drops began to happen drastically after the Ran & Rania event.
Just the previous month, JTNews reported that sales at Kitzel’s were exceeding expectations:
“We’re profitable already,” Aviv, 32, said over coffee and a bagel. “We’re six weeks in and we’re profitable. Which is really unheard of for a restaurant in its first year.”
I asked Hava about this.
We were doing great. Our sales were much higher than we had projected they would be. We had to hire extra staff because we couldn’t keep up with the demand. We couldn’t keep the products on the shelves. We had to double our baking efforts just to be able to keep bagels on the shelves. It was crazy, and I don’t know if it was just the hype of opening or what. But it was pretty crazy.
I asked if the initial excitement of the new restaurant might have tapered off, accounting for the lower sales.
We opened December 15, and the initial excitement we believed began to pan around January 4, and our numbers stabilized. Our numbers remained the same from January 4 until the Ran & Rania event. And the numbers from the Ran & Rania event until the current day are just astronomically different. And on most days, up to 50% lower.
Hava also told me that since the February 23 event, Kitzel’s has laid off about a dozen employees, reducing the staff by half.
I asked Hava if she agreed with JTNews’s designation of Kitzel’s as “a Jewish deli in Olympia to counter the Olympia Food Co-op’s boycott of Israeli products.”
When JTNews is saying that, yes, I agree. But it wasn’t to counter it like, “Oh, the coop is gonna do that, so we’re gonna open a Jewish deli and only buy Israeli goods.” No, it’s not like that. It was to counter it in this way that we had a realization there is very little exposure to Jewish life and Jewish culture in Olympia…
So yes I agree with the statement that JTNews said, that we opened it to counter—and let me add some words into it—the effect of the decision of the Olympia Food Co-op board of directors to partake in the BDS boycott of Israeli goods. When I hear people in Olympia say—and I’m talking about just kind of average people—when I hear them talk about Israel as an entire country, as a whole, as being bad, it’s difficult, it’s painful…
And when people here in Olympia talk about Israel, and they don’t know anything about Jewish culture, they know very little about Israeli history, they know very little about Palestinian history—when they talk about it, and they talk about Israel on a whole as bad, it’s not the full picture. Being critical of the Israeli government is one thing.
I told Hava that that wasn’t how I expressed criticism of Israeli actions.
No, it’s not the activists. It’s not the activists I’m worried about. It’s people that get blippets of information, and then they decide to inform themselves on blippets of information, from any angle. I mean, we could even be talking about a completely different [issue], from any angle. People that don’t do research, and they just decide to subscribe to an opinion because of blippets of information. And it’s because of these blippets of information that we wanted to offer some other information, like [in the form of] a hamantaschen cookie: “This is Jewish—eat the cookie—and here is the history behind the cookie.”
When JTNews says that we opened it to “counter the boycott”—I’m filling in the rest of the sentence—we opened it to counter the effect of negative thinking toward Jews and negative thinking towards Israel as a whole.
I don’t agree with BDS all the way, I don’t agree with StandWithUs all the way. I don’t agree with a lot of decisions that the Israeli government makes. The Israeli government is very similar to the United States government: a small population of people with a tremendous amount of power.
If you and I were to go walk the streets of Israel and find some random 14-year-old and ask them how they partake in their government and if their government is making all the decisions that they want for their country, the answer has to be no. No government is able to do that. So being critical of the government is one thing, but for an entire people or an entire country on a whole is another thing. We wanted to offer another perspective.
So is this also how you would characterize “standing up to the boycott” (which was the language that was used in a fundraising email from Kitzel’s)?
Yes, this is also how I would characterize “standing up to the boycott.”
I believe that the Olympia Food Co-op is extremely unique and very integral to the Olympia community. I would never turn my back on the Olympia Food Co-op. They are an amazing organization, the way that they treat their members, the way that they treat their employees, the foods that they carry, the decisions that they make around the foods that they carry. These are all very important things. I am not turning my back or disagreeing with that at all.
Deliberately sourcing from Israel?
Prior to Kitzel’s opening, an article stated that “Kitzel’s—like the Food Co-op—will carry socially sustainable products, but it will specifically include sustainable products from Israel.”
Does Kitzel’s go out of its way to source items from Israel?
There are a few items that we can’t get from anywhere else. It’s not like I go to Israeli markets, but we are happy to carry Israeli goods, and the reason we are happy to carry Israeli goods—and this is where you and I will disagree. I do not think that taking away from someone will help make something positive happen. And we can just agree to disagree. You and I know that we disagree on this one. You think it will work; I don’t.
So it’s not like I sit on the internet scouring Israeli goods. We’re open to purchasing Israeli goods and carrying Israeli goods…
We are intentional about all of the goods that we bring into the deli. We try to have free range organic local chicken. We try to have the better eggs. We try to have seasonal produce. We’re really good about all of the things that we purchase and that includes goods from Israel.
A lot of the Judaica we carry in the store—it’s a lot easier to source it from Israel than from the United States. It’s very hard to find in the United States.
A lot of the canned Israeli goods, we buy from a Russian food dealer that is just north of us, and they’re a pretty big monopoly on Russian foods. We have the choice between two vendors: one that’s in Kent, Washington, and one that’s in Portland, Oregon. That’s it.
If we want Russian goods, if we want the herring, and if we want the smoked mackerel, these are the only places to get it. To have Eastern European pickled mushrooms, you can’t get ’em here. We actually buy them through Russian vendors in the United States, and those mushrooms happen to be canned in Tel Aviv. The way we look at it is I’m not going to not buy them because they’re from Tel Aviv. But I’m not like searching out pickled mushrooms and only buy mushrooms from Tel Aviv.
Hava also wanted to stress the following:
I want you to be very careful about this. I want you to be very careful about how you choose my quotes. I am not speaking out against StandWithUs. I am not speaking out against JTNews. I am not speaking out against the Olympia Food Co-op. I just want all of those to be very clear. I agree and disagree with all three organizations, with many things that they do, but I am not standing out against them.
Next steps for Kitzel’s?
As this article was about to be published, I learned that Hava had posted a comment on the blog of Washington State Representative Reuven Carlyle. The comment was a response to a post by Carlyle that was full of blatantly false claims and ignorance about The Evergreen State College, which Carlyle criticized as “a strong home” of “anti-Israel sentiment.” The comment, posted three days after my interview with Hava, stated:
March 19, 2012 1:37 pm
Wonderfully put. I know of two faculty members at [Evergreen] that have requested Israeli speakers and events and have been repeatedly turned down. I would love to discuss this with you. I would also love to connect with you over events I’ve attempted to host at the deli in Olympia of similar nature and the push back/intimidation we’ve received in doing so.
I contacted Hava to verify that she had posted this comment and that she was trying to attract the attention of a Washington State legislator, but I have not yet heard back from her.
Rob Jacobs and me
Rob Jacobs in Olympia (second from left)—name-dropping me, as if that would score points with most of the audience present. Feb. 23, 2012.
To conclude this article, I will address a couple of issues that arose at the February 23 event with Ran Bar-Yoshafat and Rania Fadel. Rob Jacobs, the Seattle-based northwest director of StandWithUs, was present for the event, just as he was present that morning at the hearing for the Olympia Food Co-op lawsuit.
At the Kitzel’s event, Craig and Cindy Corrie, the parents of Olympia native Rachel Corrie, pointed out to Jacobs that StandWithUs had disseminated lies about their daughter, including the myth that Rachel was not run over by an Israeli bulldozer. Jacobs responded that he would contact the StandWithUs national office to get any incorrect information fixed.
However, blaming the national office for the misinformation was disingenuous. Jacobs’s Seattle office has created its own misinformational materials. Nevet Basker, the former regional director of the Seattle office with Jacobs, created an entire website that disseminated lies about Rachel, including the same myth that Rachel was not run over by a bulldozer.
Although the website is attributed to an anonymous “group of concerned Seattle-area residents who have seen the play [My Name is Rachel Corrie],” and who “are concerned that viewers are getting an incomplete picture of a very complex situation,” the domain name was registered by Basker two months before the play was even performed in Seattle.
So far, no information about Rachel Corrie on StandWithUs’s website has been corrected.
Also at the February 23 event, Jacobs decided to insert me into his narrative. According to multiple witnesses that night, Jacobs told the audience that there were many lies being spread about him and StandWithUs. He offered as an example a rumor that I had apparently concocted in which Jacobs had threatened me over the phone.
Not only have I never made such a claim, but I have absolutely no idea what Jacobs could have based this on, as I have never received any personal communications from Jacobs, nor have I ever told anyone that I did.
At the conclusion of the February 23 event, Jacobs asserted to a local activist that I was indeed “The Most Evil Man in Olympia”—a label first conferred to me in 2010 by an Olympia-based associate of Jacobs.