Bay Area stands with Reem’s Bakery in face of pro-Israel attacks

Activism
on 16 Comments

It is a familiar scenario. Somewhere in a Bay Area community space, a Palestinian voice rises and is heard. That voice defies a rigidly enforced popular narrative that casts the mighty state of Israel as the victim and demonizes those it has dispossessed. Gatekeeper pro-Israel organizations, purporting to represent the entire Jewish community, spring into outraged action and whip up Islamophobic hysteria that terrorism and antisemitism lurk where Palestinian political expression is allowed.

This scenario is playing out today, as the right-wing, pro-Israel brigade vilifies Reem’s California, an Arab street-corner bakery in the Fruitvale Plaza, as promoting terrorism and hatred of Jews, and seeks to drive it out of business by holding raucous demonstrations in front of the restaurant and swamping Yelp and other social media with false negative reviews. Reem’s, which opened in May, has been acclaimed for its authentic Arab cuisine and welcoming community space, and for creating living-wage jobs, including for those with barriers to employment. But it is being targeted for destruction because on its walls, in addition to colorfully emblazoned Arabic script, there is a mural of Rasmea Odeh, a revered feminist leader and longtime organizer in the Palestinian and Arab-American community, who has survived decades of Israeli persecution.

A mural of Palestinian activist Rasmea Odeh, who wears a pin of Oscar Grant, at Reem’s California. Photo: Sarah Han

In 1969, when she was a college student, Odeh was arrested by Israel authorities along with hundreds of other Palestinians, and convicted of participating in bombings that killed two Jewish-Israeli civilians. She was given a life sentence but was released in 1979 in a prisoner exchange. The year of her release she testified before a United Nations human rights committee about the brutal torture and sexual assault that were used to force her to sign a false confession.

Odeh’s testimony was echoed that same year by U.S. State Department reports indicating that “the use of brutality in the interrogation of Arab political prisoners is a systematic practice.”

Since then, major human rights organizations have documented the continued widespread use of torture by Israel’s security forces against Palestinian detainees.

In the occupied territories the occupying army is the jailor, the prosecutor and the judge of Palestinian civilians forced to live under martial law. Under these circumstances, what kind of justice can there be?

Odeh’s arrest, detention, “confession,” and conviction are inseparable from this broader context. In the 50 years of Israeli occupation, some 750,000 Palestinians have been detained by Israeli security forces–- constituting approximately 20% of the total Palestinian population. And the rate of conviction for Palestinians in Israel’s military courts is a staggering 99.74%, according to the military’s own statistics.

Today’s campaign against Reem’s is one in a long line of attacks by pro-Israel organizations against Palestinian expression in the Bay Area. It happened when these organizations forced changes to the Palestinian segment of a public mural created by Mission District youth to celebrate the bringing down of walls confining people of color around the world. Images of Palestinian liberation were, they claimed “exceedingly threatening to the Jewish community…” It happened when they sought to have the city of Berkeley defund the Berkeley Art Center because it held an exhibit of Palestinian art that included images of anguish and resistance under occupation; it happened when they demanded removal of “inflammatory” symbols of the Palestinian right of return in the San Francisco State University Edward Said mural; and it happened when they pressured the Oakland Museum of Children’s Arts to cancel an exhibit of artwork by children of Gaza depicting the Israeli assault in 2009.

Against this background, the local community, as well as social justice organizations, have rallied to Reem’s side. On several recent occasions, including two Saturdays, a handful of people raucously demonstrated outside the bakery, calling on the public to boycott it. Their efforts were countered by dozens of community members, neighbors, and activists who showed up to keep the entrances to the bakery open and everyone safe. Several passersby joined them, outraged by the racist tirades.

Each time, despite the demonstrators’ attempt at disruption, Reem’s was packed with customers, including many social justice activists and community members. After one Saturday protest, as the sun streamed through the windows and the fragrance of freshly baked man’oushe filled the air, members of Jewish Voice for Peace processed the day’s events and discussed how we could most effectively support Reem’s. We are committed to justice for all, and we take the threat of antisemitism very seriously. That is why we denounce attempts to use that term to incite and justify Islamophobia and racism. We hope others in the progressive Bay Area community will join us in denouncing these attacks and supporting Reem’s Arab street-corner bakery.

A version of this article was originally published at Berkeleyside.

About Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders is a Berkeley resident, a long-time member of the Bay Area chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, and a retired attorney and author of legal texts.

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16 Responses

  1. amigo
    August 15, 2017, 10:10 am

    Thanks for this Carol.I had forgotten about Fruitvale during 16 years I have been back in Ireland.

    Sure wish I was there to stand in support of Reems and give a suitable welcome to the usual zionist trouble makers trying to spread the usual hasbara and lies.Will they ever learn.

  2. Annie Robbins
    August 15, 2017, 12:06 pm

    reem’s is a really popular destination here and has gotten a LOT of positive press in the bay area. i haven’t been there yet but really want to go. if what everyone is saying is true it’s worth commuting for and relatively speaking i don’t cross the bridges that often. i recommend everyone visiting their website (http://reemscalifornia.com/) and checking it out. i love the promo video:

    • just
      August 15, 2017, 6:30 pm

      It’s a brilliant video and article. I will tell all my friends nearby about this oasis. I really, really want to have an

      ” Oaktown B&B (seasonal) (V)
      Mozzarella, fried eggplant & potatoes, feta, parsley, roasted garlic oil”

      Q: When will those that object to this wondrous space co-opt (steal) the recipes as their own?

  3. eljay
    August 15, 2017, 3:19 pm

    … Today’s campaign against Reem’s is one in a long line of attacks by pro-Israel organizations against Palestinian expression in the Bay Area. It happened when these organizations forced changes to the Palestinian segment of a public mural created by Mission District youth to celebrate the bringing down of walls confining people of color around the world. Images of Palestinian liberation were, they claimed “exceedingly threatening to the Jewish community…” It happened when they sought to have the city of Berkeley defund the Berkeley Art Center because it held an exhibit of Palestinian art that included images of anguish and resistance under occupation; it happened when they demanded removal of “inflammatory” symbols of the Palestinian right of return in the San Francisco State University Edward Said mural; and it happened when they pressured the Oakland Museum of Children’s Arts to cancel an exhibit of artwork by children of Gaza depicting the Israeli assault in 2009. …

    Poor Zionists: Just because they’ve spent ~70 years doing evil doesn’t mean their victims should be allowed to make them look bad! Aggressor-victimhood sure is a tough gig… :-(

    • Misterioso
      August 16, 2017, 10:47 am

      @eljay

      The Zionists are running scared and for good reason:

      http://www.jpost.com/American-Politics/Israel-dramatically-losing-support-among-Jewish-college-students-in-US-497605

      “‘Massive drop in US Jewish college students’ support for Israel'” 
      By Danielle Ziri
      Jerusalem Post, June 22, 2017
        
      EXCERPTS:
      “As anti-Israeli fervor intensifies in US colleges, researchers warn against losing the next generation.” 

      “NEW YORK – Support for Israel has dropped 27 percentage points among Jewish college students in the US since 2010, a study released by Brand Israel Group at the Herzliya Conference this week revealed.

      “According to the research, in 2010, 84% of US Jewish college students leaned toward the Israeli side of the conflict with the Palestinians. But in 2016, only 57% did, believing Israel falls short with values such as human rights, tolerance and diversity.

      “In addition, Jewish college students grew increasingly supportive of the Palestinians, with a jump from 2% in 2010 to 13% in 2016.”

      It’s only a matter of time.

      • maddave
        August 17, 2017, 1:11 pm

        Not a lot her to brag about, eljay. This must be taken as no more than faint encouragement as to what more is to be done.

  4. Henry Norr
    August 15, 2017, 5:49 pm

    Great report, but for people living in or visiting the Bay Area who don’t know where Fruitvale Plaza is, it might be worth explaining that it’s in East Oakland, right outside the Fruitvale BART Station. Right now Reem’s is open only for breakfast and lunch, but sometime soon it will be opening for dinner, too.

    My kids and grandkids live nearby, so I go by Reem’s frequently. The good news is that it almost always seems pretty busy – even when the Zionist creeps are protesting outside.

    It might be worth adding that the proprietor, Reem Assil, is not just a determined entrepreneur – she’s also a longtime leader and organizer in a variety of progressive causes. And, it turns out, she’s a great cook.

    • Annie Robbins
      August 15, 2017, 7:40 pm

      thanks henry, i hope people open the links. the second link in the article (embedded in “an Arab street-corner bakery in the Fruitvale Plaza” and published by berkeleyside) opens with

      In the 10 years that she spent as a community and labor organizer…”

  5. JosephA
    August 15, 2017, 10:28 pm

    I think in civil society when racists chant it’s a good idea to film them, and also to call the police. If that’s ineffective, there’s always mace…

  6. RoHa
    August 16, 2017, 11:44 pm

    “Gatekeeper pro-Israel organizations, purporting to represent the entire Jewish community”

    Of course, the multitudes of Jews who are not part of those organizations protested loudly at the misrepresentation. No doubt they are fiercely fighting back.

    • Annie Robbins
      August 17, 2017, 2:07 am

      No doubt they are fiercely fighting back.

      actually they are. there’s another counter/protective measure intended for tomorrow. that is my understanding from the underground communications network ;) next week too. it’s happening — the coalition supports reem’s.

      do not underestimate the power of unity

  7. maddave
    August 17, 2017, 1:05 pm

    Reem’s Bakery and their experience in the Bay Area — and other similar examples of mindless hate and racist behavior elsewhere in the USA — will do much to promote BDS & encourage widespread kickback against:
    1) Israel’s unyielding enforcement of draconian apartheid laws; and
    2) The Jewish settlers’ on-going Nazi-like lawless-and-heartless behavior toward their Arab neighbors.

  8. Mayhem
    August 24, 2017, 9:39 am

    Reems have been glorifying a woman who is a convicted terrorist who lied to US authorities and is to be deported. If I had a spare can of paint I can’t think of a better purpose than to pour it on that wall.
    Here’s the sting:
    We would be appalled if a restaurant opened that drew inspiration from the terrorist who killed so many in Manchester. Yet Reem’s Bakery is suggesting that a terrorist is a role mode. Sick.

    • Mooser
      August 27, 2017, 7:21 pm

      “So much for free speech.”

      Once again, “Jon 66” you confuse free speech with the consequences of speech. What Zionists call “free speech” may be adjudicated for what it is in this case, harassment.

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