What We Can Learn from Manny’s Café

   Weekly demonstrators began to show up at Manny’s Cafe. 

Manny Yekutiel decided to open a café in the Mission district of San Francisco. This wasn’t a run-of-the mill café.

Manny is a man deeply involved with liberal causes. He interned in the Obama White House and worked on Obama’s reelection campaign. Afterwards he became involved in an immigration reform group and then worked as a fundraiser for the Hillary Clinton election campaign.

An Idea is Born: A Community Space for Dialog

From the start, Manny resolved to create not just a business, but an event space to serve local residents.1 He wanted to create a place where people could assemble to learn about community issues and become engaged politically. He felt a commitment to issues of social justice.

Manny’s Café was to be a place for the diverse groups in the Mission district to feel at home. A space where the residents of the Mission could hear lively presentations and debates on issues of concern to them.

One of Manny’s greatest challenges was to meet the demands of a community activist group, United to Save the Mission (USM).2 USM is a coalition of over a dozen neighborhood non-profits and activist groups representing a variety of interests. Unelected and appointed by no one, these activists work to ensure that businesses are compatible with what they believe are community needs. Their top priority is to ensure that any new business does not displace existing long-term owners and residents—-in the words of USM, “to fight gentrification.” According to these community activists, the business must also respect the welfare of the many Latinos, gays, lesbians and other residents of the neighborhood.

Manny had involved himself in various community concerns. He even played a role in a recent city election for mayor. So it was in keeping with Manny’s history of community involvement that he was willing to work with USM. He worked hard to satisfy USM’s requirements for approval of his café.

Jumping Through Hoops

As advocates for the neighborhood’s large Latino population, the USM activists wanted a “bicultural, bilingual environment” for local families. So USM requirements for approval of Manny’s cafe included bilingual staff from the local community and bilingual signage throughout the café. Manny complied with both requirements. In addition, the staff at Manny’s Café includes mostly local people of color, as well as many LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) individuals. Manny himself is a gay man.

USM also insisted on “affordable” pricing. In high-priced San Francisco, Manny set the cost of a cup of coffee at $1.75 and a Tecate beer at two dollars. Meals start at just six dollars. The food service at Manny’s is run by Farming Hope, a non-profit organization that provides jobs for the homeless, those with low-incomes, and former prison inmates. All the profits of the food service go to Farming Hope.

At USM’s insistence, “community-serving” groups get to use the café’s event space for free, with more affluent groups paying $54 per hour, a low fee for a San Francisco venue.

Manny pays rent to a non-profit housing corporation that uses its profits for the benefit of the residents of its 28 family unit apartment building. The five thousand residents of the corporation’s larger housing system get free admission to events at Manny’s, as well as discounts on food.

In short, Manny’s Café is a model business and an asset to the Mission neighborhood.

In the end, Manny spent two years to create his café. He says that over one thousand people were involved. He wrote a business plan, managed the permitting process, supervised construction, hired staff and planned presentations. In short order, Manny’s became a spacious and popular venue for political education and debate. Manny’s has hosted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, San Francisco Mayor London Breed, and Black Lives Matter. It provides a venue for many progressive groups that cannot afford to maintain office space. It hosts speakers on topics dear to progressives, such as the experience of black transsexual women in the criminal justice system.

The Outrage of a Few Disrupters

Everything was on target at Manny’s Café until a community advocacy group, the Lucy Parsons Project, sent an improbable e-mail to five local media outlets. The organization describes itself as a “radical black queer direct action group fighting anti-blackness in the Bay Area”. The e-mail laid out a string of caustic accusations against Manny’s café:3

Manny’s as a gentrifying wine-bar, cafe and fake ‘social justice’ space in the Mission District, will only accelerate the raising of rents and the displacement of Black, Latinx, disabled and trans/queer people in the Mission…….Additionally, the proprietor of Manny’s, Emmanuel Yekutiel, has unequivocally espoused racist, Zionist, pro-Israel ideals that we will not tolerate or accept in our community. … We will not tolerate gentrifiers and Zionists [sic] attempts at invading and destroying our community through ‘woke-washing’!!

What led to this outburst, including its anti-Semitic imagery of an alien force “invading and destroying” a neighborhood? It was nothing more than Yekutiel’s social media posts in praise of Israel. He had posted pro-Israel comments such as “Happy 70th Birthday Israel” and “I am so proud of Israel and its people.” To the black activists, this was a casus belli, even though none of the events or speakers at the café had anything to do with Israelis or Palestinians.

The Lucy Parsons activists accused Yekutiel of “pinkwashing” and “blackfacing” by hosting black and LGBT speakers. In far-left vocabulary that means that Manny was using his support of black and gay people to cover up his racism and pro-Israel advocacy.

Yekutiel has good reason to support Israel. His father’s parents and their eight children were forced to flee Afghanistan for their lives. They fled to safety in Israel. According to Yekutiel he is proud of his family’s background and “proud to be Jewish in America.”

After the Lucy Parsons’ e-mail, weekly demonstrators began to show up at Manny’s. They shout into bullhorns and wave anti-Israel placards. A protestor spray painted a Star of David on the café’s exterior along with the words “Fuck Zionism.” Someone shattered a window.

Manny invited the protestors to enter his café to start a dialog, but they failed to respond. Rather, the Lucy Parsons demonstrators have vowed to continue their protests until Manny’s shuts down. The battle over Manny’s started as a local story. But it began to garner wider attention with a recent op-ed by Yekutiel in the San Francisco Chronicle and an article in the Jewish newspaper The Forward.4  The protests continue as of this writing.

My Take

            This is a story about a brave community activist who created a space for dialog, but who was stymied at every step by radical and intolerant progressive ideologues. It is an important story for what it reveals about the conceptual and moral bankruptcy of the far left in the US today.

Anti-Semitism

The most important revelation about this story is the anti-Semitism of the far left. This is laid bare by the visitors to Manny’s café who demanded to know if the owner was Jewish.

The “community activists” trying to ruin Manny’s business demonize Israel above all other countries. Despite the privileges they enjoy in the US, I don’t think these folks care for America. But they reserve a special hate for Israel. They pepper Israel with the usual false charges of Jewish racism and genocide against Palestinians. As illustrated by the Lucy Parsons email, they draw on tired ethnic slurs such as depictions of Jews as alien “invaders”.

The protestors’ ire for Israel is odd, given that they are gays and lesbians. As British commentator Douglas Murray recently noted, if these folks ever found themselves in Palestine they would have to run away to Israel. They would not be safe anywhere else in the Middle East.

The protestors’ hate for Jews is so great they are willing to set aside their own self-interest in order to expel the Jews and Zionists from their midst.

At the same time, they ignore the true human rights abuses that are the norm among Israel’s Arab enemies. Are they aware that hundreds, possibly thousands, of gay Palestinians have fled the Palestinian territories in order to save themselves from being murdered by their families or imprisoned by authorities—-just for being gay? And where do these gay escapees go to find safety? : Israel, of course.

I imagine the protestors’ ignorance is supported by the silly lexicon of far-left conceits. For example, they likely draw “intersectional” parallels between police killings of blacks in the US and supposed Israeli killings of Palestinians. This is nothing more than willful ignorance in pursuit of anti-Jewish prejudice. Reality dictates that every conflict is different. For those who are busy hating and blaming others, these realities are not important.

Community Activism or Extortion?           

The back story to Manny’s café is the popularization of extortion by the far left. In Manny’s case, it began with the endless demands, bias and at times unreasonableness of the United to Save the Mission group. I don’t blame Manny for appeasing these folks. Behind every one of their demands lay the threat of public shaming, false publicity and violence. But the tragedy here is that the willingness of the neighborhood business owners to cave in to the demands of USM empowers a dangerous trend.

It is legitimate for a government authority to lay out a series of reasonable requirements for the approval of new businesses. For example, a Planning Department might want to limit the number of businesses that serve alcohol in order to preserve the family character of a neighborhood. But when a community allows an ad-hoc group of unelected, self-appointed people to browbeat business owners to conform to the particular standards of the group, it has crossed a red line into vigilante action.

When a government agency issues business permits it does so with the authority of an elected government. If government uses the permitting process to abuse business owners, government officials can be recalled or voted against in the next election. In addition, courts serve as a check on the legality of the permitting process. These democratic restraints do not apply to a group like United to Save the Mission.

There is another disturbing possibility. The functionaries of USM are self-appointed far-left liberals. What if a group of local citizens from the far-right decided they would emulate USM’s tactics of demands and implied threats? One group of “community activists” might demand a café maintain a bilingual English-Spanish environment. Another might insist on English-only. One group might insist that hiring preference be given to Latinos, blacks and formerly incarcerated persons. Another group might insist that the business adhere strictly to hiring by qualifications and experience. Which set of business requirements should prevail? Who will decide?

In the business permitting process, when is it legitimate for the regulator to impose sanctions? A government agency can fine or order the closure of a business. The legitimacy of these sanctions is supported by the moral authority of an elected government. But when a private group of self-appointed regulators sanctions a non-conforming business with threats, boycotts and the like, where is their moral authority? Don’t their actions encourage mob rule?

Self-appointed activists, like those of USM, are arrogant. In their view, only they get to decide what is best, based on their preferences for the community, on the assumption that their values are superior to those of others. They forget the lessons of history. Today’s self-appointed activists want to “support people of color.” Not so long ago, self-appointed ideologues wanted to “prevent communist infiltration” and “maintain the white character of communities.” Times change so we need rules that don’t.

A User Manual for Destroying a Neighborhood

Consider the do-gooders in the story of Manny’s café—-the far-left protestors and the community activists of USM. Where will their distorted values and arrogance lead? We already know the answer. We have seen this story played out before as socialist ideals and preference for favored racial groups have led to disaster.

The activist group of black gays and lesbians is working to shut down Manny’s café in large part because Manny is a Zionist. But in the process, they also empower the very forces in the world that spell intolerance, oppression and death for people like them.

At the same time, the self-appointed activists of USM impose such severe limitations on business owners, they are likely to harm, rather than help, their local community.

The imposed business requirements discourage business owners and investors from funding and operating businesses. It is these well-operating businesses that create and maintain healthy communities. The result of excessive business requirements is inevitably the withdrawal of capital from affected communities. The tax base erodes, making it increasingly hard to support community infrastructure, policing and social benefits. Businesses close. Unemployment increases. In the vacuum, crime finds a footing and grows. Talented and hard-working residents flee. A downward spiral gains momentum. What started out with good intentions ends with the destruction of neighborhoods.

A Beautiful Light at the End of the Tunnel

 There is a hopeful side to this story. That part is Manny Yekutiel. He has built something from nothing. He has stood up to ignorance, prejudice and the bad behavior of a disruptive element in his community. He has held onto his ideals.

If Manny succeeds, he will have planted a seed that may just blossom in many neighborhoods far from his initial vision.

I hope that happens.

Footnotes

  1. Yekutiel, M. Manny’s Builds a Real-Life Space for Civic Discourse in SF. San Francisco Chronicle, January 1, 2019. Retrieved January 19, 2019 from:

https://www.sfchronicle.com/opinion/openforum/article/Manny-s-builds-a-real-life-space-for-civic-13500957.php

  1. Eskenazi, J. How Many Hoops Must Manny Yekutiel Jump Through Before He’s Deemed Worthy to Set Foot in the Mission? Mission Local: Local News for a Global Neighborhood. January 7, 2019. Retrieved January 19, 2019 from:

https://missionlocal.org/2019/01/how-many-hoops-must-manny-yekutiel-jump-through-before-hes-deemed-worthy-to-do-business-in-the-mission/?fbclid=IwAR2FtaidrJHevKkvgLDTmQxuRdde1sTry5_BL7gLsgHAfHJpA-CBjhyhP0w

  1. Ibid.
  1. Pink, A. New San Francisco Community Space Sees Protests Because Owner is a “Zionist.” The Forward. December 27, 2018. Retrieved January 19, 2019 from:

https://forward.com/news/national/416699/new-san-francisco-community-space-sees-protests-because-owner-is-a-zionist/

About the Author
The author is a life-long Zionist and advocate for Israel. He believes that a strong Jewish state is invaluable, not only to Jews, but to the world-wide cause of democracy and human rights. Dr. Berger earned a PhD in Social Welfare from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has twenty-seven years of teaching experience. He has authored and co-authored three books as well as over 45 professional journal articles and book chapters. His parents were Holocaust survivors. Dr. Berger also blogs at: https://realbulletpoints.wordpress.com/
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