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Foodbenders, a Toronto health food restaurant, has lost business and is now facing legal action after using the hashtag “#zionistsnotwelcome” in social media posts.

Foodbenders’ social media posts have said “police brutality is an Israeli export” and “Zionists are Nazis,” and included hashtags such as #intifada. Following complaints, Instagram shuttered the restaurant’s account.

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After facing harsh criticism, Kimberly Hawkins, the owner of Foodbenders, claimed on social media that she does not believe “criticism of the Zionist political ideology, Israel or the Greater Israel Project, or pointing out its racist supremacist foundations amounts to criticism of the Jewish people or even Israeli citizens.”

“Some people do believe this and may interpret these criticisms as anti-Semitic, and others will deliberately conflate the two to label you as racist with the primary goal of silencing discussion on Israel,” she asserted.

However, the Simon Wiesenthal Center likewise slammed Hawkins for anti-Semitism.

“By stating that Zionists are not welcome to its store, this business is basically stating that Jewish people are not welcome,” Rabbi Meyer May, the center’s executive director, said in a statement. “This is clear anti-Semitism, extremely discriminatory and unacceptable.”

Taking legal action, the International Legal Forum (ILF) has filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario charging that based on the guidelines of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism, Hawkins should be charged with anti-Semitic discrimination.

The IHRA, which is comprised of representatives of 34 countries, including Canada, adopted in 2016 the working-definition of anti-Semitism, according to which anti-Semitism is “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

The IHRA states that anti-Semitic examples include denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor, comparing Israel to Nazi Germany and leveling accusations against Jewish citizens of various countries that they are more loyal to Israel than to their own countries.

The claim, submitted by Elena Aschkenasi, an 86-year-old woman who fled from Nazi Germany in the 1930s, states that the post “Zionists not Welcome” amounts to a statement denying service to Jewish people, a form of racial discrimination.

The complaint cites a 2018 Survey of Jews in Canada, conducted by Environics Research, York University and the University of Toronto, which noted that Zionism is “the normative form of Canadian Jewish identification.” 92% of Jewish Canadians said they are attached to Israel, and almost 80% have visited at least once.

“As such, discrimination against Zionists is a thinly veiled euphemism for antisemitic hatred,” the complaint states.

“Anti-Zionism means the opposition to the Jewish national home’s very existence. That is what IHRA defines as antisemitic,” Aschkenasi said. “Foodbenders thus publicly stated that it would not serve Jews. These hateful views gained over 200 likes on Instagram. Thus, I was a priori discouraged from soliciting Foodbenders.”

The ILF underscored that the claim’s novelty is in its first-time usage of the IHRA’s working definition of anti-Semitism.

“IHRA acknowledges and incorporates the connection between Jews and Jewish national identity, and its fulfilment in the Jewish nation state, as a central expression of Jewish identity, similar to observance of Jewish holidays and religious practices such as dietary laws, Sabbath and other,” the ILF stated

Euphemistic manifestations of hatred, such as calls against Zionists instead of Jews, enable the rise in hateful expressions towards Jews and the increase in anti-Semitism, while supposedly evading violating modern norms against discrimination, violence or incitement on racial or religious grounds. IHRA bridges this gap, and links anti-Zionism to anti-Semitism, the lawfare organization explained.

Adv. Ned Steinman, who submitted the complaint on behalf of the ILF, stated that the issue at has was not “only defending one Jewish woman, but the entire Jewish people.”

“This claim will establish an important precedent that will set a clear legal red line – you cannot whitewash hate. This claim proves that you cannot disguise discrimination behind euphemisms. Discrimination is discrimination, and it comes with a price,” he added.

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