April 24, 2024

Palestinian restaurant Ayat opens in Ditmas Park, divides neighbors

Amid mundane posts on the Facebook page of Ditmas Park, Brooklyn — rental ads, furniture for sale, a woman seeking a cat dermatologist — a battle has erupted over a newly opened Palestinian restaurant whose owners are critical of the Israeli government.

The restaurant, Ayat, is part of a small chain owned by Ayat Masoud and her husband, Abdul Elenani. Ditmas Park’s menu includes a seafood section titled “from the river to the sea,” a controversial slogan that the Anti-Defamation League considers anti-Semitic and a call for “the destruction of Israel by violent means.”

An aggrieved Facebook commenter derided the phrase as “overtly genocidal.” Many Palestinian advocates, including Elenani, insist that the decades-old slogan is merely a nonviolent rallying cry for justice.

“Our interpretation of it is simply freedom and rights for the Palestinian people between the Jordan and the Mediterranean,” he said. “We are simply against the Zionist mentality of eliminating or flattening Gaza now.”

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

Elenani said he tried to make his position clear to the Facebook group, but his comments were censored by administrators. (An administrator told The Daily Beast that all “explicitly political” posts had been removed.)

He said he hoped to say that his “brand” consists of two elements: “The first is that I will always mention the occupation of the Palestinian people. And number two is that we will always advocate for peace.”

Many members of the Facebook group have made statements supporting the restaurant and giving flattering reviews of the food, while others have said they will not eat there as long as the slogan remains on the menu.

The situation reflects other controversies that have flared up since the war between Israel and Hamas began on October 7. Across the country, and in some cases around the world, businesses have been protested, review-bombed and boycotted by customers angry at their owners. views on the conflict.

The latest debate takes place in a gentrifying community known for Victorian mansions and homes often used in TV shows and movies. Located just south of Prospect Park, it is diverse not only ethnically, but also in terms of “race, class and educational background,” one resident said.

Dahlia Schweitzer, who moved to Ditmas Park in 2020, dismissed Facebook comments defending Ayat as “a virtue signaling from people who somehow think they are making a political statement by eating at this restaurant and eating there ad nauseam about posting online.”

Schweitzer was particularly offended by the “river to the sea” language, she told The Daily Beast. The restaurant may claim they are “just advocating freedom,” she said. ‘But they’re poking the hornet’s nest. And they know what they are doing.

‘The best analogy I could think of [of] is like 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 hold back.

A Facebook post

The debate about Ayat turned into a debate about the way the Facebook group handled posts.


Another resident, who asked not to be named, echoed that argument, claiming Elenani and Masoud were “clearly trying to incite.” The resident added that she plans to contact the local community board to see if Ayat is ignoring permit requirements for her outdoor seating. (Elenani said the company is compliant.)

After Hamas’s attack on Israel in October, Masoud and Elenani’s restaurants were subjected to online attacks and review bombs. In the months since, as the Israeli army launched a brutal assault on Gaza, the intensity of these comments has diminished, Elenani said. Business is still slow at its Staten Island location, but the other restaurants are operating at their normal levels.

Lisa Javaherikia, a Ditmas Park resident, said she found the criticism of Ayat “quite unnerving” and also unexpected in light of the area’s diversity: “You walk one block, you have one Haitian community, you walk the other side to side, it’s a Yemeni community. if you walk the other way, it is very Orthodox Jewish.”

Javaherikia recently visited Ayat and posted in the group about the ‘ahhhhmazing food’. Worried about the backlash from other commenters, she almost chose not to post. “Then I thought, ‘You know what, fuck that.’” According to Javaherikia, the restaurant’s owners “have the right to say what they want, and I have the right to go or not.”

Schweitzer thinks the humanitarian situation in Gaza is “a horror and a nightmare” for civilians, but nevertheless believes Ayat has gone too far.

Another Ayat critic—when asked whether they would defend a pro-Israel restaurant if the situation were reversed—argued to The Daily Beast that it would be “fine” to openly support the Israeli government or military, as long as the restaurant did not. shamelessly say something against the Palestinians.”

Other residents simply seem exhausted from all the noise. The “armchair activists on both sides…are going crazy,” one group member said.

Another person added in a post about Ayat on Tuesday: “I had the best babaganoush there ever, that’s all I wanted to say.”

On Wednesday, posts from locals enthusiastic about Ayat’s food – without explicit political content – ​​flooded the Facebook group. The comments soon turned into a now well-known debate, with a number of group members pushing for an end to that debate.

By 9:30 p.m., the group’s administrators had addressed the brouhaha with the decision to temporarily require all posts to be approved by moderators.

“This decision was not taken lightly,” the announcement said. “We understand the importance of free speech and the role this group plays in our daily interactions. However, our priority is to maintain a space where all members feel safe and valued.”

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