On July 16, 2020 Kimberly Hawkins, the owner of Foodbenders restaurant in Toronto, issued a “Statement on Activism and Antisemitism”:
STATEMENT ON ACTIVISM AND ANTISEMITISM
I would like to address the accusations being made against myself and my company, Foodbenders, in the most genuine and honest way I can. Thank you for making time to hear my story.
I am not shy when it comes to being vocal on freedom and justice, even when it is not popular and could come with boycotting and financial losses personally and professionally. I firmly believe silence is violence, and if you have a platform to use your voice and influence change, then it is your moral imperative to do so. Over the years I have used my company’s social media and storefront window to do that, being vocal about issues of police brutality, the Wet’suwet’en land theft crisis, the coup in Bolivia, the pandemic policing of the homeless, sex worker rights, but most notably about the Great March of Return, Gaza and Israeli occupation.
Many people had already been following my battle with police harassment that began after Foodbenders sidewalk sign posts regarding Regis Kochanski-Paquet and the Not Another Black Life movement in Toronto. People were upset with how the police were treating me and reached out to the city councillor, the mayor, the MP, the police and the media, who mostly ignored the story for weeks. Rebel media latched onto the controversy fuelling vile harassment, including more death threats, theft and vandalism, as well as Islamophobic and sexist hate speech against me.
When Rebel media called attention to the pro-Palestine signage – “I <3 Gaza” – in the Foodbenders window, the internet immediately perceived me as Muslim, Palestinian and terrorist. One woman came to spray paint the Star of David on the storefront window and door, all the while taunting me “call the police.” A reminder the police will not protect me. Others have come to disturb the peace, threaten violence and damage property. The far right Jewish Defense League (JDL) held a rally outside the store, intimidating the building tenants and picking fights with pedestrians. They even spray painted the symbol of a Jewish terrorist group in front of my store. My landlord was threatened with acts of vandalism and arson.
Members of the JDL and other online actors are sharing doctored images of me, fake screenshots and media posts to make it look like I said things I did not in order to convince the public I am an antisemite and I do not welcome Jewish shoppers. There have been multiple attempts at hacking of my social media accounts. There is a new account spreading antisemitic tropes that is gaining followers called @foodbenderstoronto that is not me. Please do not follow it. Report it so we can get it taken down.
There were also important genuine criticisms made about statements and language I used in the Foodbenders social media posts. Many concerned people contacted me to say they felt hurt by dangerous antisemitic tropes I was invoking. In particular, the statement asserting that the JDL and Zionist journalists were controlling the media was a well-known antisemitic trope that Jewish people control the media. I want to apologize that this post was poorly worded and insensitive. I had been referring to my personal story with the police and the real life media-smearing of my company and character, I did not intend to generalize, to invoke antisemitic canards or to hurt anyone. I was coming from a place of anger and exhaustion with what has been happening to my daughter and I. I take ownership of these and other mistakes and I am working with members of the Jewish community to learn more about anti-Jewish stereotyping so my messaging is more respectful and does not distract from the goal, which is equal rights and justice for all.
To that end, I want to conclude by addressing those offended by the use of the hashtag “Zionistsnotwelcome” in an Instagram post. While I am opposed to the political ideology of Zionism, I want to make it clear the hashtag in the post was not intended in the literal sense. Rather, I was using the statement to call out land theft and the occupation of Palestine by Zionist settlers who have stolen Palestinian homes and farms against international law. The intention of my statement was to express solidarity with Palestinians in their resistance to the current annexation plan and against occupation.
What I absolutely did not intend it to mean was that Jewish or Zionist people are not allowed to enter to my store. Anyone is welcome. The spitting on me, threatening to burn down the store, attacking my daughter and calling her names, vandalizing and all the forms of threats we have come to experience daily are unacceptable and not welcome – regardless of your identity. However, if you want to talk through issues and work together peacefully for justice for all, then you are always welcome.
Raising awareness about Israeli occupation and the issue of Palestine is not easy to do in Canada or anywhere in the world. My position continues to stand firmly against settler colonialism, from Turtle Island to Palestine. My criticisms are of state institutions, not individuals, races or religious beliefs. I do not have hate for Jewish people or any people. I firmly believe we will have a more peaceful and just world for all humans once we deconstruct the institutions that modern settler states were founded on. Canada and Israel are settler colonial police states that need to be decolonized, demilitarized and defunded. We will need to have uncomfortable conversations to achieve that justice. I am open to learning how to have that conversation in peaceful and respectful ways. I ask the same of you when you visit my store.
FREE PALESTINE. <3