Kenneth Ryesky
Kenneth Ryesky

Philadelphia food fiasco

Eat Up The Borders, a group in Philadelphia which purports inclusivity in helping immigrants establish businesses (including and especially food businesses), planned a food festival event called “A Taste of Home,” which would feature food trucks purveying diverse international cuisine.  The planned event was co-sponsored by Sunflower Philly, “a community-based, nonprofit organization focused on providing access to art, music & sustainable resources through a curated series of events and programs in North Philadelphia.”  So far, so good.

The trouble arose when Moshava Philly, a food truck purveying Israeli cuisine, was disinvited from the event after having initially been slated on the menu (pun intentional). The initial (poor excuse for a) reason given was that Eat Up The Borders was concerned about threats of violence on account of the Israeli truck’s presence.

Only later did it emerge that there was a supposed agreement that any such events would not include an Israeli cuisine purveyor without a “Palestinian cuisine” purveyor, and vice versa, and that it was necessary to exclude the Moshava Philly truck because the “Palestinian truck” would be absent.  This contention was made by co-sponsor Sunflower Philly.

In the ensuing uproar and backlash, Eat Up The Borders shut down public access to their website, Facebook, and Instagram accounts, and the event was canceled shortly before its scheduled opening.

Noted thus far:

William J. Levitt endeavored to exclude Black people from his post World War II real estate development projects (and in some cases, even his fellow Jews) with the rationale that too many potential customers would lose interest by the presence of such people in the neighborhoods he was constructing.  The courts ruled against him, clearly establishing that prejudice cannot be used as its own justification.

Yet, Eat Up The Borders asserted just that as its reason for disinviting the Moshava truck from the event.  It is highly doubtful that EUTB would have justified disinviting a purveyor of an Asian cuisine (there are many “Asian” styles of food) based upon the physical violence against Asian people in America, including in Philadelphia (never mind that EUTB’s principal founder is of Asian descent).

The alleged “agreement” that both Israeli and “Palestinian” cuisines were to be represented at the event, though on ever-so-slightly-less shaky legal ground, remains problematic.  Was there actually ever such an agreement in the first place?  If so, then even if it were not reduced to a formal written and signed contract, then, in this day and age of the Internet, one would expect the existence of such an agreement to at least be alluded to in an e-mail exchange (I have successfully argued in litigation that documents in e-mail form can prove a contractual agreement).

But even in the (unlikely) circumstance that there was a formal written, signed, notarized, and sealed agreement, its enforceability would be open to question; depending upon the wording of the contract, one might conceivably argue that merely giving a “Palestinian cuisine” truck reasonable opportunity to participate would require Moshava to be permitted at the event.

In the end, the event was canceled at almost the last minute.  The attorney for the Sunflower Philly sponsor, quite expectedly and quite appropriately, neither confirmed nor denied when I contacted her that the cancelation was in accordance with her counsel to her client.

Yes, the event was canceled, but that outcome does not put the underlying problems to rest.  If threats of violence indeed were made (and it is likely that some, perhaps empty ones, were), then the people who made the threats have succeeded in disrupting what should have been an amity-promoting event, thereby setting precedent for future disruptions by lawless means.  This precedent paves the way for future anti-Semitism if the organizers of the event applied a different standard to a Jewish/Israeli vendor than it would have applied to a vendor of a different background (the perception that they may have done so renders the actuality largely irrelevant).

No less disturbingly, the precedent set can only discourage start-up organizations from attempting to bring about amicable interactions among diverse groups.  Tax-exempt organizations must surmount many obstacles in establishing themselves, and in maintaining their tax-exempt status (I myself have some expertise in the area, having dealt with tax-exemption issues as an attorney for the IRS, having served on the board of a Jewish day school, having given presentations at continuing legal education seminars, and having written articles on the subject for law reviews and for general Jewish community consumption).

Though EUTB did effectively take down its internet website, its initially purported intentions remain ascertainable because the organization’s founders were highlighted in a January 2020 Temple University public relations release as having created an organization that uses “great food and unforgettable experiences to bring together community members with linguistic and cultural differences.”

The Philadelphia Food Fiasco has thus dropped some fallout upon Temple University, which already has its own issues with anti-Semitism (and is where I earned two of my academic degrees).

Moreover, it is not at all encouraging that the usual components of Philadelphia’s “Jewish Establishment” such as the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Community Relations Council are now talking in terms of Moshava sitting down with the would-be sponsors of the event and, while singing “Kumbaya,” trying to come to a mutual love and understanding.

The likes of the ADL and the JCRC typically take the Pollyanna attitude that if only the anti-Semites knew how terrible antisemitism really is, they would cease hating Jews.  The fallacy of this contention should be obvious.  The colleges and universities are visibly among the key incubators of Jew hatred, and those who stoke the flames of anti-Semitism are not the uneducated simpletons the “Jewish Establishment” pegs them to be.

Rightly or wrongly, an organization that has presented itself as gap-bridging conciliator has incurred a disgraceful setback that could have been avoided had its decision-makers properly understood the situational realities.  At best, the Philadelphia Food Fiasco exemplifies poor planning on the part of its organizers, who failed to figure into the equation the current political climate’s enhanced needs. There is reason to fear that the debacle may provide poor precedent which will become increasingly hostile to the Jewish community and Israel as time goes on.

About the Author
Born in Philadelphia, Kenneth lived on Long Island and made Aliyah to Israel. Professionally, he worked as a lawyer in the USA (including as an attorney for the Internal Revenue Service), a college professor and an analyst for the U.S. Department of Defense. He's also a writer and a traveler.
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