Is there a special punishment reserved for Black People who stand in solidarity with Palestinians?

Boycott Manny's demonstration

by Toshio Meronek

 This past year, it was hard to miss the news of CNN’s firing of Marc Lamont Hill, after his fairly vanilla call to end the violence in “Palestine, from the river to the sea,” or the controversy that flared when a civil rights organization in Angela Davis’s hometown took back an award due to her pro-Palestine activism.

One of the world’s most beloved poets, June Jordan, once told The Los Angeles Times about the “huge smear letter-writing campaign” started by feminists who said Jordan was “trying to divide the women’s movement” after she became one of the most visible Black critics of the Israeli government’s abuses of Palestinians. In her poem “Apologies to All the People in Lebanon,” she searingly describes how the US funds “the bombs and the planes and the tanks that they used to massacre your family.” (Today, the US gives about $4 billion each year to Israel’s military.)

 Black and Palestinian solidarity was the basis of weekly protests by Black, Brown, and Jewish groups outside a new wine bar in San Francisco’s Mission District, called Manny’s. Protests began when the place opened in November 2018, but they leveled-up in August, when cops arrested two protesters, one Black and the other white and Jewish, after a Zionist—a supporter of apartheid in Israel—pushed into the crowd and began destroying the sign of an anti-Manny’s protester.

 To the protesters, Manny’s represents a near-perfect mix of ingredients that make it a worthy target. Over megaphones, members from groups like the Bay Area chapters of prison abolitionists Critical Resistance, the Palestinian Youth Movement, and the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, chant “Manny is a gentrifier and a Zionist!” while holding signs with messages like STOP THE WOKEWASHING OF THE MISSION. 

 Naming the place after himself, Emanuel Yekutiel was still in his twenties when he retired into the wine bar business. Previously, he made a living as a political strategist for clients like Hillary Clinton, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, and the Israel lobby group A Wider Bridge.

 Yekutiel says he wanted Manny’s to be more than just a restaurant. According to the Manny’s website, it’s “a people-powered and community-focused meeting and learning place.”

 In preparation for the wine bar’s opening in November 2018, Yekutiel hung portraits of black people on the walls, and had his menu translated for Spanish-speaking patrons in the Mission District—a District where about half the population was Latinx, until recent gentrification and evictions uprooted thousands of long-time Latinx residents.

Flexing his political connections, Yekutiel has booked appearances by presidential wannabes like San Francisco’s pro-Israel former District Attorney Kamala Harris, along with Cory Booker and Beto O’Rourke.

 Others have cancelled events at Manny’s due to the boycott, including Ai-jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers’ Alliance, and radio host Davey D.

 Chicanx students from SF State, plus a dozen other groups, point out that Manny’s used its “social justice” spin to get cheaper rent in the bottom floor of the Altamont Hotel, a public housing building whose landlord is a nonprofit called the Mission Housing Development Corporation (MHDC). MHDC’s Executive Director Sam Moss, a pro-gentrification activist who in June was the featured speaker at a event on free-market capitalism, says that Manny’s deserved a lower-cost lease because the “community-oriented” bar would make the neighborhood “safer.”

 But non-white, non-wealthy residents knows that a “safer” neighborhood can mean very different things to different people.

 The coalition of Black, Brown, and/or Jewish people running the Manny’s boycott point out in their social media that when a business like a wine bar opens in a historically low-income neighborhood, it means more “quality of life” (311) calls to the city by new, rich neighbors. It also means more of a police presence, and ultimately, more dead Black and Brown people.

San Francisco is the city that anti-Zionist James Baldwin famously called out for its “Negro removal” beginning with the “urban renewal” projects of the 1960s; the same city that today is bleeding black people, literally and figuratively. San Francisco mayor London Breed promised during her campaign to hire 200 new cops despite violent crime being at its lowest point in decades. (Crime stats never include murders by cops, of course.)

 Why is the city “providing reduced rents to wealthy businessmen while tens of thousands of San Francisco residents are homeless and countless others are being forced onto the streets because they cannot pay the absurdly expensive rents in the city?” is the question posed by creators of a GoFundMe page set up to help cover the bail of arrested protesters Dayton Andrews and Max Goodwin.

The night of his summer arrest on August 6, Andrews saw firsthand “the relationship between local government and private businesses.”

 The protesters had picked August 6 because that night Yekutiel gave a warm welcome to speaker Jeff Kositsky, the city of San Francisco’s “homeless czar.” Kositsky’s the man who told the San Francisco Chronicle he’s “thrilled” with the brutal homeless tent sweeps by the police and the Department of Public Works that target people who generally do not look like Yekutiel or Kositsky: Black, Latinx, Native American, disabled, and/or queer and transgender people are overwhelmingly on the receiving end of these sweeps.

 During rush hour that night, a Zionist counter-protester walked, zombie-like, into the center of the crowd. He grabbed one protester’s signs and proceeded to break it into pieces. When multiple police squad cars drove up, instead of arresting the Zionist, they handcuffed and charged Andrews and Goodwin on five counts that have since been dropped–though the District Attorney’s office has up to three years to pick them back up.

 Corporate media has universally praised Manny’s and its alleged “social justice” theme. As soon as the protests began, the San Francisco Chronicle gave Yekutiel a platform to call boycotters the ‘alt-Left.’ (The ‘alt-Left’ is a term made popular by President Trump and right-wing blogs like Breitbart, which tries to paint anti-conservative protesters in the US as domestic terrorists.)

 Some supporters of Manny’s claim that protesters are “anti-Semitic.” But as two Jewish women who live and work in the Mission wrote in their response to Yekutiel,

Zionism is a racist ideology that supported the creation and maintenance of a settler-colonial state in Palestine. Anti-Zionists, including Jews, oppose the oppression and displacement of generations of Palestinian people. Zionism, as a racist ideology, has no place in LGBTQ+ and antiracist movements whose goal is the liberation of all people.

Manny’s also reflects development plans to replace working and poor LGBTQ+ people, brown and black people, and other longtime residents of the Mission. Manny’s is yet another imposition on a community that is suffering from the opportunistic marketing of creative, progressive culture; it is the exact opposite of a community-rooted space for civic discourse about social justice issues, as Yekutiel claims.

 What role does Manny’s play in mainstreaming gentrification? Yekutiel is attempting to commodify social movements to promote his establishment and his agenda…

 On August 29, Andrews described over the phone what moved him to join the Manny’s protests, and what Manny’s represents. “The struggle against gentrification can’t just be limited to one neighborhood,” whether it’s in San Francisco, or on a block somewhere in Gaza. “If we don’t work in solidarity, then we’re not able to build these movements to actively resist these things” in a way that will ever touch the world’s most powerful people. Many of these people are part of the racist, sexist, and classist tech industry in Silicon Valley, who argue that techies constitute a “class” of people who should be covered under hate crimes law.

Protesters believe that the arrests at Manny’s are another example of how Black people in the US who speak out against injustice, whether it’s in the Mission District or in Palestine, are usually met with outrage, condescension, and silencing by people who control politics, corporate media, academic institutions, and businesses.

[Ed Note: Since this article was written, Cristina Gutierrez, who identifies herself as the lead organizer of Moms on the March and is a leader in Black and Brown Social Club, very publicly ended her participation in the boycott. She attended an October 23 event at Manny’s about Israel (with no Palestinian or anti-zionist speakers). She has since worked with Manny to schedule another program also without Palestinian participation. The boycott of Manny’s is still continuing, and Manny has repeatedly refused to make a statement supporting Palestinian human rights and the campaign for boycott divestment and sanctions (BDS) of israel.]  

Author: lagai

LAGAI-Queer Insurrection is one of the oldest radical queer liberation groups in the U.S. We publish UltraViolet, a more or less bimonthly newspaper, which is mailed free of charge to over 1500 people, including over 800 prisoners. Our website is www.lagai.org.

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