Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Here’s What We Know About the Protests Surrounding Michael Solomonov’s Restaurants

On Sunday night, pro-Palestine protesters in Philly did a citywide demonstration calling for an end of American military aid to Israel during the ongoing Israel-Hamas war. One of the protest stops was at Goldie, a popular Israeli-style falafel shop co-owned by James Beard Award winner Michael Solomonov, which is part of the larger restaurant group CookNSolo.

There were reports and a posted viral video showing dozens of protesters chanting, “Goldie, Goldie you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide” outside of the restaurant.

The incident has led to several local and national politicians calling the demonstration in front of the restaurant an act of antisemitism, given that they perceive Solomonov has no formal connection to the Israeli government or military or its actions, and rather just cooks and champions Israeli cuisine, and is Jewish.

The Goldie protest comes weeks after protesters started calling for a boycott of the restaurant group, along with other restaurants in Philly serving Israeli cuisine. There have been no confirmed reports of arrests or critical damage to Goldie, though protestors were seen sticking “Free Palestine” and “This is genocide” stickers on the building’s exterior. Here’s a brief explainer on what’s going on.

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Who is protesting and calling for a boycott of Michael Solomonov’s restaurants?

The group that led the charge of protesting outside of Goldie on Sunday night was the Philadelphia Free Palestine Coalition. According to their social media accounts, they appear to be a diverse coalition of activists and community organizers (some who are also Jewish) who are calling for a “complete end to the siege on Gaza and an end to the U.S complicity with Israel.” In recent weeks, the group has specifically called for a boycott of various CookNSolo restaurants, which includes restaurants ranging from high-end Zahav to casual K-Far Cafe, as well as Goldie, plus other Israeli-owned businesses (such as Suraya, Moshava, and Mezeh) in Philadelphia.

Why Solomonov’s restaurants specifically?

In October, Solomonov announced that he was raising money via some of his restaurants (Zahav, Goldie, Laser Wolf, and K’Far Cafe) to support those injured in the Israel-Hamas war. He told the public that he would be donating 100 percent of all sales on Thursday, October 12th to Friends of United Hatzalah — a nonprofit emergency medical service that is currently partnering with Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) during the war to provide medical supplies and training. The fundraiser raised more than $100,000, according to Solomonov’s Instagram.

While United Hatzalah is supporting the Israeli army during wartime, typically it functions as emergency medical support complementary to Magen David Adom, Israel’s paramedic and Red Cross service. Hatzalah operates in Israel but also provides services in other countries and cities (including NYC and Florida); in Israel, it services all victims of medical emergencies regardless of citizenship (including Palestinians) and operates in both Israel and the West Bank. It also partners with the Red Crescent, the Palestinian Authority’s ambulance service, and operates Israeli Arab chapters in predominately Arab towns.

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Solomonov and CookNSolo declined to give comment for this story.

In November, pro-Palestine protesters demonstrated outside of Laser Wolf in Fishtown in response to this CookNSolo’s fundraiser and have continued to call for boycotts of the group’s restaurants as a result.

Supporters of the Philadelphia Free Palestine Coalition have clarified on social media that CookNSolo restaurants aren’t being targeted for being Jewish-owned, but specifically because the organization they are giving money that aids IDF soldiers. They have also mentioned that Solomonov is more than just a Jewish chef, but that his Israeli government-appointed role as a culinary ambassador for the nation is also problematic (given the ongoing debate accusing Israel of appropriating Palestinian cuisine). There have also been allegations online that pro-Palestine supporters have been fired from Goldie for their personal politics. As of the reporting of this story, neither Solomonov nor CookNSolo have given a statement addressing these matters and declined to respond to Eater Philly regarding these specific allegations.

Have other Jewish-owned restaurants in Philly faced protests?

So far, it appears that the only reported physical protests at Jewish-owned restaurants have been at CookNSolo’s, likely given Solomonov’s public stance on the war and his decision to donate funds to United Hatzalah.

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A graphic of a boycott list.

The Philadelphia Free Palestine Coalition

Since October, though, the Philadelphia Free Palestine Coalition has targeted what they claim to be “Zionist” restaurants and owners for boycotting — a boycott that has targeted not just restaurants who raise money for the IDF, but any restaurant owned by those they identify as a “Zionist” or raising money for “Israel” (“the Zionist State,” in the organization’s words). The lack of clarity from the coalition around the parameters around how they define a “Zionist” individual have left some to interpreting that they’re mainly boycotting openly Jewish restaurant owners and chefs.

Some national chefs/owners have taken to social media as well as the press to speak out about such boycotts.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney says the city will be reviewing the incident.

Meanwhile, many diners continue to support Goldie in the midst of the controversy, with long lines appearing on Monday for lunch.

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