Mourice Kari, the owner of Taboun, sits in the restaurant's dining area, which is adorned with a mural suggestive of Jerusalem. (Photo/Lea Loeb)
Mourice Kari, the owner of Taboun, sits in the restaurant's dining area, which is adorned with a mural suggestive of Jerusalem. (Photo/Lea Loeb)

‘Reverse boycott’ aids S.F. eateries, including a Palestinian one, caught up in anti-Zionist boycott

About 60 people dined at Oren’s Hummus in San Francisco on Sunday as part of a “reverse boycott” to show support to restaurants that were targeted in a flyer campaign calling for consumers to reject local Israeli and Jewish eateries.

The event was organized by SFBadJews, a social group started by Igor Milgram in December. The group is coordinating an effort to patronize the establishments on the list over the next six weeks.

“I used to own a small business,” said Milgram, who owned and operated a cannabis-infused beef jerky company prior to the pandemic. “When I saw that people were trying to attack these Jewish businesses and hurt these people, for things that are completely outside of their control, it really enraged me.”

The flyers, discovered on Jan. 12, were pasted on utility poles and lampposts in San Francisco’s South of Market and Chinatown neighborhoods. They read in part, “Boycott Zionist goods contaminated with apartheid and genocide,” and named six establishments: Oren’s Hummus, Sababa, Hummus Bodega, Manny’s, Sabra Grill and Taboun.

The flyers describe the restaurants as Israeli and Zionist businesses that are “part of an ongoing colonial campaign of stealing, appropriating and profiting off of Palestinian food and culture as a means of erasing Palestinian existence.”

Taboun, however, is actually a Palestinian-owned restaurant.

“I want to know who made these posters and have a talk with them,” said Mourice Kari, who opened Taboun with his wife, Najwa, and sister and brother-in-law in 2004. “But no one signed the papers. They left their names off.”

A flier calling for a boycott of Israeli business in San Francisco. (Photo/Twitter)
A flier calling for a boycott of Israeli business in San Francisco. (Photo/Twitter)

Kari immigrated to San Francisco 44 years ago from Ramallah in the West Bank, where he still has family. He opened Sunny Country, a corner grocery store two blocks from Golden Gate Park, 30 years ago and opened Taboun next door 10 years later. He’s been a fixture in the Cole Valley neighborhood for decades and knows most of his customers by name, many of whom are Jewish, he said.

“I think someone from outside the community put these up to create more chaos and division,” Kari said. “I am a proud Palestinian. My neighbors and everyone who comes here knows that.”

In addition to dealing with the boycott flyers, Oren’s Hummus, which has six locations across the Bay Area, was recently vandalized with graffiti spray-painted near its San Francisco store that read, “Do you condemn your hummus?” Three weeks prior, at its Palo Alto location, similar boycott flyers were glued over its front windows and on its patio tables.

A similar incident occurred in Philadelphia in October. Nearly identical flyers, with verbatim statements, were posted on the Jewish-owned restaurant Goldie’s and to Facebook by the Philadelphia Free Palestine Coalition, claiming that “food establishments which offer ‘Israeli’ cuisine actively participate in the ongoing erasure of Palestinian history and existence.”

The current Israel-Hamas war has heightened long-running debates over cultural appropriation, or the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of a people’s customs, practices and ideas. The arguments about food culture, alongside the politics and history of the region, have been waged for decades.

In 2009, Lebanon accused Israel of trying to “steal” hummus and make it their national dish, resulting in the two countries competing to break the Guinness World Record for making the largest tub of hummus and therefore win the right to claim the dish. The series of events was dubbed the “hummus wars,” and the food feud became a symbol of the tension in the region. (Lebanon won.)

“There’s been a political objection to the establishment of the State of Israel and some of the politics of the State of Israel, and coming alongside that there’s a desire to deny that country its own foodways and its own kind of national cuisine,” said Ari Ariel, director of international studies at the University of Iowa and an expert in ethnic identity in Israel and Middle Eastern Jewish foodways, or the eating habits and culinary practices of a people, region or historical period.

Reverse boycott participants dining at Oren's Hummus in San Francisco, Jan. 28. (Photo/Courtesy SFBADJEWS)
Reverse boycott participants dining at Oren’s Hummus in San Francisco, Jan. 28. (Photo/Courtesy SFBADJEWS)

“I’m sympathetic to that as a way to resist Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza,” said Ariel, who wrote about the hummus wars. “But on the other hand, I kind of see it as there is — I almost want to say a delusional — sort of attempt to say if Israeli cuisine doesn’t exist, that somehow the state won’t exist, or the occupation won’t exist. And that’s where I think it becomes really problematic because, of course, all states have groups of people and cuisine, and they all change over time.”

According to Ariel, it’s not surprising that Taboun was accidentally grouped in with five Israeli restaurants, given the history and context of Palestinian and Israeli food and culture. Some Palestinian foodways are certainly borrowed by and adapted into Israeli cuisine, he said, because that’s what happens naturally when people live together.

“The attempt to frame Israeli food as colonial is kind of accepting a much older Zionist narrative that saw Israel as really European and forgets that about half of the Jewish population in Israel is from the Middle East,” said Ariel. “So it’s not surprising that so many of the foods in modern Israel are Middle Eastern.”

Ariel criticized focusing on such minor issues amid the ongoing war.

“The people in Gaza are having a lot of difficulty at the moment finding basic food necessities, basic foodstuffs, so there is something kind of perverse about the fact that we and others are focused on whatever some restaurant in San Francisco was selling, when the people who are actually in conflict can’t access food and water.”

Kari stressed that all are welcome at his restaurant.

“My restaurant is here to serve everyone, Jews, Arabs, Palestinians, Israelis, doesn’t matter – everyone is welcome here,” said Kari.

Upcoming dates for the reverse boycotts:

  • Friday, Feb. 2, Sababa—11 a.m.-7 p.m. At 329 Kearny St., S.F.
  • Sunday, Feb. 11, Hummus Bodega—11 a.m.-7 p.m. At 5549 Geary Blvd., S.F.
  • Sunday, Feb. 18, Manny’s—9 a.m.-8 p.m. At 3092 16th St., S.F.
  • Sunday, Feb. 25, Sabra Grill—12 p.m.-8 p.m. At 419 Grant Ave., S.F.
  • Sunday, March 2, Taboun—11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. At 203 Parnassus Ave., S.F.
Lea Loeb
(Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
Lea Loeb

Lea Loeb is engagement reporter at J. She previously served as editorial assistant.