Busboys & Poets Troubling on Israel?

DC cafe Busboys and Poets is widely extolled for its open-mic poetry nights, organic coffee, and intellectual feel. Opened in 2005 by Andy (Anas) Shallal, an Iraqi American, the business has since expanded to three other locations in the D.C. area.

According to its website, Busboys and Poets is “a community resource for artists, activists, writers, thinkers and dreamers.” However, a look into this establishment’s list of events may be troubling for those who consider themselves supportive of Israel.

In recent years, Busboys has hosted a number of arguably anti-Israel events, including, for example, giving a platform to Helen Thomas (who said Israeli Jews should all “go back to Poland” and was subsequently booted from reporting in the White House). In late May of this year, the restaurant held a memorial for Furkan Dogan, a Turkish American who was killed while attempting to stab an Israel Defense Forces soldier during the Mavi Marmara incident.[1]

Most recently, two Israel-related events took place at two different locations of Busboys in late July.

The first event, held on July 20th at the Hyattsville location, centered around a group discussion of the memoirs of Sami al Jundi.  A former terrorist, al Jundi reformed while in Israeli prison and later co-founded the Seeds of Peace Center for Coexistence in Jerusalem. Unfortunately, al Jundi’s message of reconciliation-oriented dialogue may not have manifested during the event:  A community member who attended the event reported that patrons not only referred to terrorists as freedom fighters, but went so far as to call Israel a “crusader state” and compare Israeli soldiers to Nazis, in that “they intentionally target and murder Arab peace activists” in attempts to avoid a peaceful solution. According to GTJ’s source, such patrons were neither openly reprimanded by the organizers nor countered by a more balanced perspective. Consequently, the GTJ source felt uncomfortable making pro-Israeli statements to the group.

The second event, held on July 24th at the downtown DC location, was a report back from the second (failed) flotilla to Gaza (see pictures below). As a donations box for future endeavors was passed around a crowded room, flotilla activists on stage described their recent failed attempt to sail with “aid” to Gaza. (Some perspective: Israel sends 260 trucks carrying 6,000 tons of goods to Gaza daily, while the previous flotilla carried only 4,000 tons of goods, consisting mostly of expired medical equipment.  Moreover, the Greek government offered to send aid to Gaza through existing channels on behalf of the stymied second flotilla, in lieu of allowing them to sail, but this alternative was rejected by flotilla organizers.)

Funding the next flotilla

One of the participants at this event was Gabriel Schivone, a man falsely identifying himself as Jewish in order to generate “insider credibility” for his criticism of Israel. Additionally, the parents of Rachel Corrie — a pro-Palestinian activist killed in Gaza [2] — spoke at this event (pictured below with the owner). Meanwhile, candles burned next to photographs of dead Turkish combatants from the Mavi Marmara.  Like Furkan Dogan, these men had brought weapons on board and attempted to kill Israeli soldiers who boarded the ship for inspection. According to a community member who attended, patrons also discussed ways to involve college students in new anti-Israel activities.

This is not the first flotilla fundraiser held at a Busboys location. A similar event took place at the Shirlington, VA, location in September, 2010.

In response to GTJ’s inquiries, Mr. Shallal said that no one had brought any concerns to his attention regarding offensive language at the discussion of al Jundi’s memoirs. He emphasized that “had such comments been made, someone would have been there to counter them.” He added that the establishment does not articulate rules for such book discussions and that he has “little control over what people say within small conversations that take place regularly at peace cafes or in other venues.” He did not give GTJ a statement regarding any of the flotilla events.

Stephen Richer is co-founder and president of Gather the Jews.  This piece is the product of work by Stephen on an individual level and does not represent a GTJ institutional stance.

Have a different perspective that you’d like to share? Write to info@gatherdc.org.

Rachel Corrie’s parents with Busboys & Poets owner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1] The Mavi Marmara was a Turkish ship that attempted to break Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza on May 31, 2010, as part of a six-ship flotilla known as the ‘Gaza Freedom Flotilla’. The ship claimed to be bearing humanitarian aid for the residents of Gaza. After boarding the ship to search it, IDF forces uncovered a cache of weapons that were used to violently attack the soldiers. Activists had previously stated (on May 30) that violence was premeditated. The five other ships in the flotilla were towed into the Ashdod port without incident.

[2] The matter of Corrie’s death is the subject of some controversy. Palestinians and protesters from the International Solidarity Movement accused an IDF Caterpillar D9 bulldozer of running over Corrie deliberately as she attempted to block the destruction of a Palestinian home. The IDF contends Corrie’s death was an accident, resulting from the D9’s inability to see Corrie behind a large pile of dirt.

36 replies
  1. Uri Manor
    Uri Manor says:

    Unbelievable! I used to go to Busboys and Poets a couple years ago, and I spoke highly of the place. After reading this article, I will never go back to that place, and I would strongly discourage anyone else from going either.

    Reply
  2. Naughtius Maximus
    Naughtius Maximus says:

    FYI to potential patrons: Andy Shallal also owns skewers, cafe luna, luna grille, and eatonville restaurants.

    Reply
  3. AA
    AA says:

    Thank goodness Busboys values the concept of freedom of expression and thank you to GTJ for inadvertently praising them.

    Given this laughable piece, my guess is that GTJ also supported the recent Israeli protest bill, and is against the current housing protests taking place throughout Israel (despite the disclaimer at the bottom). Simply put, I’m confused as to why GTJ finds it appropriate to give one of its founders a platform from which to spew his opinions, as if to say that because one right-wing Jew with a website thinks something, all the Jews who use his website as a helpful guide have to be subjected to his embarrassingly pro-Israel views, clearly devoid of nuance.

    Articles like this do to zero — absolutely zero — to further the conversation. All they do is stigmatize and seek to delegitimize the fact that it’s OK to be critical of a country with which you disagree. Shame on GTJ for giving its founder the space to editorialize when the expressed purpose of the site is to bring Jews together, not drive them apart.

    Reply
    • Stephen Richer
      Stephen Richer says:

      Hi AA,

      Thanks for reading! Two remarks if I may:

      1) This article is almost entirely a retelling of events. Very little commentary. It’s just something I thought the community would like to know.

      2) “Stephen Richer is co-founder and president of Gather the Jews. Noa Levanon is the editor of the GTJ blog. This piece reflects only the opinions of Stephen and Noa.

      Reply
    • Hark, the Sounds of Cognitive Dissonance
      Hark, the Sounds of Cognitive Dissonance says:

      AA, I find your comments troubling for a different reason: I think maybe you didn’t read the article fully or thoroughly enough, in which case the hostility of your response appears to be baseless. As a reasonably intelligent person, perhaps it would behoove you to conduct yourself with more due diligence when responding in such a public forum. The fact that this article quotes both a source criticizing the events at B&P and the owner of B&P himself clearly evinces an attempt to provide a multiplicity of perspectives while describing factual events.

      Moreover, in case you were unaware, most media sources provide space for their own authors to editorialize. You know, sources such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal…small publications, you may not have heard of them. In this case, you will note that the authors called for any counterpoints or differing opinions at the end of the article (again, maybe you didn’t see this, in which case please see paragraph 1 of my response).

      Finally and most importantly, given your purported championing of “freedom of expression,” you of all people should overwhelmingly support a forum for the same such expression on the part of any individual, regardless of identity. It baffles me how you can extol B&P for hosting events that present a certain viewpoint and subsequently promoting discussion surrounding that viewpoint, while simultaneously denigrating GTJ for doing the same thing. Perhaps it is because you agree with one viewpoint and not the other. But that would seem to make you just as close-minded as you accuse these authors of being. And certainly, given your comments, you would not want to be characterized in such a fashion….

      Reply
  4. AA
    AA says:

    And, bravo to the writers, who, judging by the comments above, have succeeded in their subtle attempt to lay the foundation for the Jewish boycott of Busboys.

    GTJ has clearly become a platform for right-wing politics. It’s too bad, too, because I used to find it pretty helpful for finding information about our community. Now I’ll have to look elsewhere.

    Let the GTJ boycott begin?

    Reply
    • Stephen Richer
      Stephen Richer says:

      Also, I was unaware that being against the flotilla was the domain of the “right-wing.” I would have thought that would have included the vast majority of American Jews. See the AJC for instance.

      As for your remarks on the BDS law. No, I don’t support it.

      Thanks again for your interest. If you feel that this site has become politically tainted, then we would welcome your input — by writing for us — so that we may balance out.

      Please consider it!

      Stephen

      Reply
    • Noa Levanon
      Noa Levanon says:

      AA, I’m sorry (and frankly surprised) if that is your interpretation and response. Based on our personal and organizational belief in the principle of dialogue, we solicited Andy Shallal’s statement on these events prior to publication and, in fact, include quotes from him in our article. Given your call to “further the conversation,” it’s a shame that you did not extend us a similar courtesy before making unsubstantiated (and largely inaccurate) accusations about our ideology and intent.

      Also, please note that we are responding to, rather than deleting, your comments, even though you call for an explicit boycott of our own website. This would seem to undermine your allegation that we are opposed to freedom of speech.

      I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors as a champion of pluralism and dialogue, with the hope that you try actually engaging in both, even with those whom you view as being to the right of you.

      Regards,

      Noa

      Reply
  5. Micha
    Micha says:

    The owner of Busboys also organizes and sponsored the “Move Over AIPAC” anti-Israel rally in May. Stop eating there.

    Reply
  6. R
    R says:

    If you believe B&P is wrong for hosting these events and that the “other side” and / or other opinions need(s) to be represented, our silent absence is not going to balance the equation nor inform the patrons who do frequent B&P and attend these events.

    Choosing to actively *not* support B&P will completely remove those of you with something to say from the conversation.

    I understand a desire not to support an individual or organization with which you heartily disagree. I can relate to not wanting to share your money with the pockets of one you dislike. I understand the “danger” of being seen at an event which you truly oppose. Yet I wonder: if all those with opposing views do not share them, what does that do to the conversation?
    And the people participating in the conversation?
    And the people listening?

    Reply
  7. Uri Manor
    Uri Manor says:

    I wonder how the owner of Busboys and Poets would respond to a request to host a Pro-Israel event…? Maybe a rally for Gilad Shalit?

    I’m tickled by AA’s deductions about GTJ. Someone is obviously feeling defensive…

    That said, as someone who has no problems criticizing Israel (or Jews, for that matter), on all sorts of topics, I’m offended/disturbed by the conclusion that anti-terrorist=Pro-Israel.

    I’d like to believe in a world where even if someone didn’t care for Israel, they could still be against terrorism. This is an area where I think some of the extreme left has gone awry…

    Reply
  8. Briana
    Briana says:

    My thanks to the authors for shedding light on Busboys & Poets’ anti-Israel politics. I will not be dining there in the future.

    I enjoyed this article as an objective presentation of facts and a refresher on some recent anti-Israel media. However, I did find the description of Rachel Corrie to be troubling. She was a pro-Palestinian activist, arguably defending “terrorists” but her death was a tragic accident according to the Israeli press. I don’t think it’s fair to dismiss her as merely having “a controversial past” since by most accounts all of her actions were peaceful, and she was expressing her views non-violently when she was killed.

    By no means am I calling Corrie a martyr, and in no way do I defend the views she (or her parents) have espoused. Nonetheless, she was a 23 year old victim of this tragic conflict.

    I invite any and all criticisms or corrections to my post!

    Reply
  9. Matthew Peterson
    Matthew Peterson says:

    Thank you for reporting this disturbing news about a restaurant I used to enjoy. I will no longer patronize Busboys & Poets and I will tell the owner that it is because of his restaurant’s disgusting actions aimed at deligitimizing the Jewish State.

    Reply
  10. David
    David says:

    Thanks GTJ for the heads up, i always felt like that place was a little fishy..if the stated purpose of busboys is to foster an environment for activists , thinkers, etc. to get together why not plan a GTJ pro-Israel night? if they refuse then you can really make some noise with this story and open more people eyes to their bullshit..if they say yes then we have a party and all the anti-Israelis who frequent there may stop and realize that they really arent that special..btw, we will get much hotter chicks at our party (pro-Israel chicks are 10x hotter than anti-Israel chicks..fact!)

    Reply
  11. KK
    KK says:

    GREAT JOB! thank you for exposing this hotbed of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. However, I think that asking them whether we could host a pro-Israel event there is not such a good idea. People will spend money there. Why would we wanna financially support a business that probably sends money to questionable charities? I’m all for protesting outside at their next event, though.

    Reply
  12. Jess
    Jess says:

    The problem with Busboys is not new to me, and I appreciate learning that it continues to be an issue our community should be aware of and not ignore.

    Thank you to GTJ for having bravely published an article on this matter despite predictable and incomprehensible hostility from some quarters.

    Busboys crosses the line when it honors terrorists, facilitates fundraising for unlawful actions, and fails to provide any semblance of balance at a public event on a contentious issue.

    Reply
  13. Jess
    Jess says:

    Regarding KK’s suggestion of a protest, let’s start a rapid response team, not beholden to the old-school, timid local Jewish establishment, to organize such protests whenever and wherever needed locally in Israel’s defense.

    Reply
  14. Roberto
    Roberto says:

    I find it repulsive that instead of organizing events that you deem are acceptable at BBP, you deduce that just because they allow events that you don’t agree with, they should be boycotted. Good job on not answering one of your avid readers/boycotters by encouraging them to host events there themsleves, instead only commenting to those who do not agree with you. If you really believe in free speech, you should be ashamed of the skewed point of view you are portraying in this article. People have the right to congregate and say whatever they want; you have the right to be there to counter their ideas peacefully, in a rational constructive dialogue. It is because of people like you that we will never reach a viable long-term peace solution. The sad thing is, people in Israel do not agree with your viewpoint. Most people I know welcome the dialogue and are eager to find a solution to this impasse. Meanwhile, websites like these make sure this never happens, instead choosing to demonize the “other” and boycotting them. If Arabs made a website called gatherthearabs.com, I am sure you will find a way to demonize that too.

    Reply
    • Noa Levanon
      Noa Levanon says:

      Roberto, nowhere did this article call for a boycott. Yes, some of our readers responded independently in the comments section about boycotting. Others, however, argued instead for exercising their own right to free speech by debating people with whom they disagreed. I responded to the only two comments (AA and Briana) that either made incorrect inferences about GTJ or mentioned specific content within the article.

      As to your point about our skewed perspective: We attempted to avoid a skewed perspective by soliciting a statement from the owner of Busboys & Poets, which was included. If you feel that the article was insufficiently balanced, then I encourage you to write a post of your own for GTJ expressing this opinion. (This option was offered to the community at large at the end of the article.)

      Regards,

      Noa

      Reply
    • Jon
      Jon says:

      People have a very twisted view of free speech. You have the right to say whatever you want, that does not mean there are not consequences for certain comments. You could go out tomorrow and hold a fundraiser for the KKK. The group is allowed to march up and down the streets in this country preaching hate against Jews and Blacks. That doesn’t mean that there are not consequences if they do that.

      Groups like the one Corrie worked for help cover up smuggling tunnels bringing in weapons that lead to far too many deaths on both sides of this tough situations. The terrorist groups they were supporting were not about fostering peace, but about irradiating Israel. You support groups who are involved with the attempted destruction of Israel and your dam right I am going to do everything in my power to expose their views for what they are.

      Reply
    • KK
      KK says:

      Actually, “Roberto,” I know this might come as a shock to you, but most people in Israel don’t agree with the “One state solution” (i.e. the destruction of the Jewish state) that these people promote. Please tell me, why should I waste my time engaging in dialogue with people who call for the destruction of my nation? Should we have engaged in dialogue with Hitler? Perhaps we ought to have crashed a few Nazi house parties in the 30’s and tried to change their mind about the Jews. That surely would have changed the tide of history.

      Reply
      • Noa Levanon
        Noa Levanon says:

        Let’s try to maintain a civil debate, please. In the absence of proof, kindly avoid implying that people are using fake names. Also, let’s keep in mind that Nazi comparisons are a serious accusation that should be utilized with extreme caution.

        Thanks,

        Noa

        Reply
  15. Adam K
    Adam K says:

    Let’s definitely try to hold a pro-Israel event at Busboys, 5th and K NW. I go there all the time and know Andy, I’m sure he’d be open to it. If he isn’t, then that is when you can reject his “I can’t control what people say,” policy.

    Reply
    • KK
      KK says:

      Why don’t we hold a pro-Israel event at a local place that doesn’t actively try to harm Israel instead. Taking our business to BB&P makes no sense to me.

      Reply
  16. harris Vederman
    harris Vederman says:

    Thanks for this information. I recently ate there for the 2nd time and new it had a “hip” artsie side to it but was not aware of the anti-Israel side. Unlike Luna Grille which has excellent food both times at Bus Boys the food was not good either.

    Reply
  17. David M.
    David M. says:

    This is what the United States is about, freedom of expression.
    Busboys and Poets is entitled to bring whomever they choose to their venue.
    They cannot control the patrons that attend these events. If some of the patrons are a bit radical, it is not up to Andy Shallal to change their opinion or to coerce the invited speakers to have them reprimand the attendees.

    Busboys and Poets came about to bring a voice to the anti-war movement and a counter to all the right-wing propaganda that Bush, Rove, and Cheney were feeding the American public by way of the mainstream media and more brazenly through Fox News.

    Just because Andy is pro-Palestinian does not mean he is against Israel. He is against the policies of Israel that he thinks are unfair, unjust, and troubling. It’s just like I am against certain policies,bills, etc. by the Obama Administration/Congress and the Bush administration/Congress before it. YOU HAVE TO SEPARATE POLICIES FROM COUNTRY. Some policies enacted by each of these countries’ lawmaking bodies have been detrimental to the well-being of their respective citizens and those in the surrounding areas. That’s when people need to bring attention to those issues, whether the issues are invading another sovereign country on the basis of trumped up charges and lies, radical anti-immigration laws, the Patriot Act, building settlements, or cuts to programs for the poor and elderly. People should not sit idly by when they feel something is unjust or that atrocities are being performed in their name by rich politicians who could care less about us.

    The Pro-Israel lobby has a huge organization and financial backing in AIPAC, with direct access to Congress. Not only that, but the US government gives billions to Israel in financial and military aid every year. These are facts. If Andy feels that he needs to give voice to others who don’t have that same direct access to Congress and who don’t have much financial/military backing, then it’s his prerogative. I’m sure Andy, like many others who are pro-Palestinian see this as a David vs. Goliath match. Believe me, I am not advocating any tactics on either side, I am just telling you what it looks like to people who are pro-Palestinian since I know people in the anti-war community who are.

    Andy has only called on an end to occupation, whether involving Iraq or “Palestine.” Just as he called for the US to get out of Iraq, he is calling for the same in disputed settlements and territories in Israel. He is also calling for equality. He is calling on non-violent means of protest. Just watch the video above. He has a right to these views; these are not radical views, these are views based on justice and equality.

    To want to boycott a restaurant based on this article seems way over the top.
    In fact, to people who are reading this, please explain how in Israel boycotts are now illegal!! Where is the outcry on that? http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jxTP46DDDPjwkga64iNz63bur1wQ?docId=CNG.011479171ac142806e7888ecf0eeb397.31

    I am not going to tell you to not boycott Busboys. You are entitled to read the article and make your own judgment, although I personally feel the article is a bit skewed. All I am saying is just consider the big picture and grand scheme of things. Then, you might realize that Andy is pro-Palestinian/pro peace and justice, anti-war, anti-hate but not anti-Israel. To take from Paul Begala a bit, “It’s the policies, stupid” (and not the country).

    Reply
    • KK
      KK says:

      David M. — you state that Mr. Shallal cannot control what patrons say at his events. And yet, by inviting the flotilla members to speak and to raise money at his restaurant, he’s sending a pretty clear message. You can read in the article that Israel provides tons of aid daily to Gaza, and thus the flotilla served not as a vehicle for aid but as a plot to embarrass Israel and discourage safety precautions (the blockade serves the purpose of controlling the traffic of potential combatants and weapons in and out of Gaza). I would argue that calling for Israel to stop the flow of arms in and out of Gaza is not calling for a non-violent protest – in fact, it is a call to allow violence as Hamas would shoot more rockets into Israel.
      By all means, Mr. Shallal and his flotilla friends have the right to freedom of expression in our great country, as do the KKK and Neo Nazis, for better or for worse. However, this does not mean Jews and Gentiles who support Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, should patronize his establishment.
      Also, I’m curious as to why you are equating the war in Iraq with the Israeli presence in Judea and Samaria (the so-called settlements), where Jews have lived for centuries until Arabs began to massacre them in the 1920’s. Why did Mr. Shallal’s peace-loving friends avoid calling for an “end to occupation” and “Palestinian liberation” before, when these “Palestinian” lands were “occupied” by Jordan until 1968? For a great explanation, I suggest you watch this clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XGYxLWUKwWo
      As for David and Goliath…take a look at this map, then tell me about that.

      Reply
  18. David M.
    David M. says:

    One last thing is that Stephen, as the messenger and writer of this article is bringing his own views into the article. Having one person observe several discussions and then deduce from that what he considers to be anti-Israel rhetoric and tell you it is, is just not fair to anyone. For anybody reading this column, I suggest you attend a discussion at Busboys and “listen with both ears.” That means don’t just turn off when you hear pro-Israel and turn your hearing on when you hear pro-Palestine talk. In other words, don’t have selective hearing; be objective. Just observe and listen, then ask questions if you like.

    What would be foolhardy is to make this one article decide for you to boycott Busboys. It’s all hearsay, based on what Stephen “heard.” Somebody else attending the same event could have heard something different and gotten a different vibe. It (hearsay) wouldn’t stand up in a court of law, just like pronouncing someone guilty first, and that’s what Stephen has done! I think anyone deserves a chance to be heard, so go and hear for yourself on several occasions and make your OWN decision.

    Reply
    • KK
      KK says:

      That’s true, its possible some people could have gotten a different message from the speakers. However, I think that its hard to argue with the pictures, especially the one with the candles next to the Turkish combatants. They make the message of the night pretty clear to anyone who did not have the privilege of attending and judging for themselves.

      Reply
  19. Jodi
    Jodi says:

    Stephen and Noa, thank you for writing this piece. It’s important for us to be informed about the practices of local business owners.

    Reply
  20. masortiman
    masortiman says:

    a couple of years ago I went there with some friends. they had the walt/mearsheimer hit book featured. I determined then and there that there are other places I could eat.

    I am no likudnik. I support a two state solution. I am “progressive” on a range of issues. But there are lots of folks who have carried their anti neocon politics into an obsession about American jewish influence, that borders on the antisemitic.

    And no, I dont have time to go organizing events at B&P to create balance.

    Reply

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