NYC Palestinian restaurant with seafood menu ‘from river to the sea’ insists it’s not antisemitic

A newly opened New York City restaurant in Ditmas Park is facing growing backlash over its antisemitic food menu.

According to reports, the restaurant, Ayat, contains a seafood section titled “from the river to the sea.” The menu also says “down with the occupation.”

The Daily Mail further notes that images from inside the restaurant “show what appears to be Palestinian children imprisoned behind bars underneath the golden dome of the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex in Jerusalem, guarded by Israeli soldiers.”

The inclusion of these controversial words and images sparked backlash on a Facebook group for Ditmas Park locals, with members labeling them “openly genocidal.”

The owners of the restaurant, Ayat Masoud and her husband, Abdul Elenani, claim they didn’t mean any offense to Jews with this sort of language.

“Our interpretation on it is just simply freedom and rights to the Palestinian people between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea,” Elenani told The Daily Beast. “We’re just against the Zionist mentality of, like, eliminate or flatten Gaza now.”

“Our neighbors are Jews, our friends are Jews, we work with Jewish people all day every day. We do not hate Jewish people. It’s the opposite. Judaism and Islam, they are the two most similar religions,” he continued.

He added that his so-called “brand” consists of two elements: “Number one is that I will always mention the occupation of the Palestinian people. And number two is that we will always advocate for peace.” But when Elenani tried to explain his position on the Facebook group, he was censored.

According to The Daily Beast, “Many members of the Facebook group have made statements supporting the restaurant and offering flattering reviews of its food.” Many others, however,  have said they’ll never eat there so long as the controversial content remains.

Included among the many others is Dahlia Schweitzer. She dismissed the positive comments as “virtue signaling from people who somehow think that they are making a political statement by eating at this restaurant and posting ad nauseam about it online.”

The Daily Beast notes that she was especially offended by the “river to the sea” phrase. While the restaurant may claim “they’re just advocating for freedom,” she said, “they’re poking the hornets’ nest — and they know what they’re doing.”

“The best analogy that I could think is if a restaurant that had Southern food had the Confederate flag on their menu, and tried to spin it as ‘Oh, this is just Southern pride.’ And it’s like, you know, don’t be coy,” she explained.

Another local resident, this one anonymous, agreed with Schweitzer, telling The Daily Beast that Elenani and Masoud are “obviously trying to instigate.”

Not only that, but the complainant admitted she plans to contact local officials to double-check whether the restaurant is abiding by permit requirements for its outdoor seating.

 

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The restaurant has faced this sort of backlash ever since the Jan. 7th terror attack on Israel by Hamas terrorists.

“After the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7, Ayat was suddenly flooded with dozens of one-star reviews online,” The New York Times reported. Meanwhile, they’ve been accused of spreading antisemitism and hate, called terrorists, and lost some Jewish friends.

In the months since the terror attack, the backlash has subsided, but business still remains slow.

Speaking with The Daily Beast, another local resident, Lisa Javaherikia, said she found the criticism of the restaurant to be “kind of unnerving” and unexpected for such a diverse (and no doubt left-wing) NYC community.

“You walk one block over, you have a Haitian community, you walk the other direction it’s a Yemeni community, you walk in another direction it’s very Orthodox Jewish,” she explained.

She reportedly recently visited the restaurant and then posted to the Facebook group about its “ahhhhmazing food.” She did so despite feeling nervous about triggering backlash from other FB users.

“Then I was like, ‘You know what, f–k that.’ [The restaurant’s owners] have a right to say what they want, and I have a right to go or not,” she said.

Likewise, critics like Schweitzer have the right to say what they want to say, and they’ve been doing exactly that, sparking an endless debate on the Facebook page.

The debate got so bad that late Wednesday, the group’s moderators changed policy so that all future posts must be approved by a moderator before they’ll appear on the page.

“This decision wasn’t made lightly,” the administrators announced. “We understand the importance of free expression and the role this group plays in our daily interactions. However, our priority is to uphold a space where all members feel safe and valued.”

Vivek Saxena

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