By Phillisa Cramer
(JTA) — Organizers of an event celebrating immigrant chefs in Philadelphia removed an Israeli food truck from the lineup, citing “the concerns of community that we love and serve.”
But the bid to calm controversy by Eat Up the Borders, the organizer of the event on Sunday, backfired: After announcing the removal, thousands of people replied, with varying levels of vitriol, questioning why the group associated a chef living in Philadelphia to the policies of a country nearly 6,000 miles away. A congressman representing Philadelphia released a statement saying he was “stunned and saddened” by the Israeli food truck’s removal.
On Sunday, around the time the event was supposed to begin, the host of the event announced that it had been canceled.
That announcement came soon after Eat Up The Borders had taken its Instagram account offline, early Sunday morning, under an onslaught of at least 4,200 critical comments, many from people directed to the page from various accounts devoted to chronicling and responding to antisemitism. At least one prominent account warned the organization to bulk up security at Sunday’s event.
Moshava, the month-old food truck and catering company removed from the roster of “A Taste of Home,” had attempted to defuse the situation, even as it said it believed that Eat Up the Borders had “succumb[ed] to such antisemitic and dividing” rhetoric.
“We didn’t share this with the intention to cancel or boycott anyone,” Moshava wrote late Saturday night. “The way we got canceled was terribly mishandled no doubt, but the point was to bring a positive and constructive dialog [sic] to the table not more hate and violence.”
The incident encapsulates some of the dynamics that have characterized online discussions of Israel and antisemitism in the weeks since the violence in Israel and Gaza turned social media into a battleground of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Allies of the Palestinian cause have found unprecedented allyship online; meanwhile, Jewish social media users have increasingly sought to call out instances where they see criticism of Israel veering into antisemitism.
Neither Eat Up the Borders nor Moshava Philly replied to requests for comment late Saturday. But the saga is spelled out in Instagram posts from the last several days.
It began late last week when Eat Up The Borders announced the lineup for the third iteration of Taste of Home, billed as “a curated event celebrating diversity through food” and other activities. Along with eight other vendors including a Mexican restaurant and a tea company, Moshava was on the list for the second month in a row of the festival.
Launched last month by a chef named Nir Sheynfeld who came to the U.S. in 2015 to attend culinary school, Moshava serves Israeli street food such as falafel and sabich. Its first public event was at the last Taste of Home on May 16, during the recent conflict in the Middle East.
The post announcing the lineup quickly began attracting comments criticizing the inclusion of an Israeli truck.
“I’m absolutely disgusted by the cultural appropriation of Palestinian food in this event. I will definitely not be attending and telling all my friends the same,” one user, @buzkashi, wrote in response to the announcement.
Initially, Eat Up the Borders indicated that it did not intend to relent to pressure.
“We will not be private on our values, which are uplifting the immigrate [sic] voices,” it said in an Instagram post Friday. “Our concern is not where they have immigrated from but giving a platform to small businesses here in Philadelphia.” Moshava responded with three applause emojis.
But on Saturday morning, the group reversed course.
“In order to provide the best experience to all, we decided to remove one of our food vendors from Sunday’s event,” it wrote on Instagram. “This decision came from listening to the concerns of community that we love and serve. Our intent is never to cause harm. We’re sorry, and we realize being more educated is the first step to preventing that from happening again.”
Eat Up The Borders did not name the food truck it had removed. But Moshava filled in the details in a post on its own account in which it said it was “deeply saddened” not to be attending the event.
“The organizers of the event heard rumors of a protest happening because of us being there and decided to uninvite us from fear that the protesters would get aggressive and threaten their event,” the post said. “We were really hoping that the organizers @eatuptheborders and @sunflowerphilly would step up to the plate and defend local, small and immigrant based businesses, no matter where they are from (as per their so called ‘mission statement’) but by the looks of it fear, violence, and intimidation got the best of them.”
Moshava also said it believed that Eat Up The Borders had given in to antisemitism.
“We really do hope that in the future you don’t succumb to such antisemitic and dividing rethoric[sic] and keep true to your words of a safe environment for all religions and nationalities — not just all of them except Israeli and Jewish ones,” the company’s account posted.
By midday Saturday, the incident had gained attention among Jewish influencers, especially within the contingent of anti-antisemitism crusaders on social media. Some simply decried it, while others explained in comments why Eat Up The Borders’ decision was objectionable. A few likened Moshava’s removal to the Nazi boycott of Jewish-run businesses in 1933, a precursor to the Holocaust.
Blake Flayton, a college student who is among a self-described group of New Zionists fighting antisemitism online, told his Twitter followers that he saw danger in the way Eat Up The Borders explained its decision. “Notice how they word it — it sounds like justice. It sounds like inclusivity and openness. This is how antisemitism becomes mainstream.”
On Instagram, he added another line tagging the event’s organizers. “@eatuptheborders hire security if you want to ensure safety you clowns,” he wrote late Saturday night.
It was as those comments rolled in that Moshava posted again, thanking its supporters but emphasizing that Eat Up The Borders does good work.
“Let’s not dim the light they shine on local, immigrant businesses,” the company wrote, before announcing that it would be selling at a different event Sunday afternoon. On Sunday, it posted that it was meeting with both representatives of Eat Up the Borders and Sunflower Philly, the nonprofit that was hosting the event.
“We do not believe the organizers’ intention came from an antisemitic place but the threats they were receiving to their event were,” Moshava wrote. “Our shared goal for the future is to steer away from violance (sic) and hatred and be able to share a platform with all members of our community and collectively share our cultures.”
In a comment posted Saturday, a representative of Eat Up The Borders told one commenter that the saga had caught the event organizers by surprise.
“We received more hate than I thought was possible for having an Israeli vendor,” the representative wrote. “They themselves never detracted from the event. The amount of uproar we received and legitimate threats forced our hand.”
Several hours later, Eat Up The Borders was no longer active on Instagram. And on Sunday around noon, Sunflower Philly posted on Instagram that the event was canceled.
“Due to the ongoing situation with one of our event partners @eatuptheborders and @moshava_philly we have decided to cancel the ‘Taste of Home’ event today,” the post said. “We will continue to host events with people of all races, nationalities and sexual orientations who are aligned with our mission.”
Main Photo: Chef Nir Sheynfeld, right, opened the Moshava food truck last month. (Moshava/Instagram)