Skip To Content

Support the Forward

Funded by readers like you DonateSubscribe
Back to Opinion

A Toronto store posted an anti-Semitic slogan. Did the Jewish community overreact?

It started out simple: A small health food store in downtown Toronto called Foodbenders took to Instagram to proclaim that Zionists weren’t welcome at their store. Local news anchor Jamie Gutfreund took some screenshots and condemned the store on his Instagram account.

View this post on Instagram

At a time when racism is front and center in the news, I was quite shocked and surprised to see a local Toronto company @foodbenders openly promote their racism and Jew hatred by blatantly and proudly posting that anyone who believes Israel has a right to exist is not welcome – basically it means no Jews are welcome. Just imagine for one second if this were owned by any other person who openly promoted that Blacks, Muslims, Asians, LGBT, etc were not welcome – it would be a major story on every station and paper in the city. Advocacy groups would be parked outside this business raising hell!! The cancel culture would be out there immediately seething at the teeth demanding justice. This is Canada ??- everyone is welcome here. Curious to know what my non-Jewish friends and followers along with @johntory @fordnationdougford and @maritstiles have to say about this anti-Semitic business owner advertising their hatred of Jews. Hatred has no place here in ?? – and if you don’t like it here, no one is stopping you from leaving.

A post shared by Jamie Gutfreund (@jamiegutfreund) on

Then all hell broke loose.

Establishment Jewish and pro-Israel community organizations, who haven’t had much to talk about since mid-March, sprang into action, drafting petitions, blast emails, social posts, and press releases condemning the store and calling for consequences.

Foodbenders, for their part, doubled down, saying that Canadian Jewish groups control the “media and elected officials” and called the Prime Minister a “Zionist Puppet,” the Canadian Jewish Record, which has been following the story closely, reported.

Within days, and after considerable public pressure, multiple food delivery services and associated businesses cut ties with Foodbenders. The Mayor of Toronto, the Premier of Ontario and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau chimed in to condemn the store and anti-Semitism.

The Toronto Jewish community is the largest in Canada, home to about half of Canadian Jewry. It’s geographically concentrated, tight-knit and Zionist. Around 80% of Canadian Jews express a strong connection to Israel and that same number has visited Israel, more than the average American. The principles of our Zionism are not, by any means, unanimous (two Jews, three opinions), but our baseline is that a Jewish state should exist.

When a store bans four out of five Jews, there’s a good chance there’s anti-Semitism at play. Criticism of Israel isn’t inherently anti-Semitic. But there is a line where it becomes so. Foodbenders sprinted past that line.

In a Jewish conversation for Pride Month, Jodi Rudoren, editor-in-chief of The Forward, was joined by a panel of thought leaders to explore how far LGBTQ people have come — and what happens next. Watch here.

An old boss of mine used to say, “When you’re in a hole, stop digging.” Foodbenders rented a power shovel instead. They continued to post vile anti-Semitic content, claiming that “Zionists are Nazis” and that Jeffrey Epstein was a Mossad agent. The owner changed her Facebook profile’s cover image to a cartoon that personified the U.S.A. as the Grim Reaper, with Israel as his blood-drenched scythe.

It’s right to be appalled by and critical of anti-Semites and to hold them to account. They should face consequences. Ideally, we should educate them and have them sincerely repent.

Unfortunately, Jewish organizations at the forefront here don’t seem to want that. They seemed to see no virtue in a proportional response.

CIJA, Canada’s advocate for Jewish and Israeli affairs, filed a complaint with Ontario’s Human Rights Commission. B’nai Brith Canada encouraged supporters to report Foodbenders to food delivery services and ask Toronto to revoke their business license. The store is being sued for $750,000 in a lawsuit filed by pro-Israel lawfare groups.

Individually, these responses are warranted and reasonable, to various degrees. Collectively? They are getting closer to overkill.

And then, the Jewish Defense League jumped in.

The JDL, which is considered an Islamophobic hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and is known to slur Jews that acknowledge the existence of Palestinians as “kapos” encouraged its supporters to protest. During that protest, the storefront was defaced with pro-Israel graffiti and the sidewalk defaced with Islamophobic chalk drawings.

There’s no reason we can’t be offended by anti-Semitism and condemn vandalism. To his credit, Gutfreund denounced the graffiti.

From our institutions? Apart from a tweet from CIJA and a line in an OpEd by B’nai Brith Canada’s CEO which both called out vandalism, there was radio silence.

It’s clear that the goal here is not education or conciliation. The goal seems to be the total destruction of a small business in the midst of a global pandemic.

It makes me wonder: Why was there no attempt to educate the owner?

Canadian Jewish organizations spend time and money petitioning governments across the country to denounce the movement to boycott Israel (a movement I don’t support). And yet, they then subsequently call for boycotts and heavy sanctions on a single small business in a not-very-Jewish neighborhood.

We’ve got a real anti-Semitism problem in Canada. We’ve got fringe political parties calling for the removal of Canadian Jews. There’s a bizarre fixation with swastikas in Canada’s small towns, too; it’s mowed into lawns, there are towns named Swastika and streets named Swastika Trail.

Last year, a formerly-mainstream political candidate ran for office, his campaign based in thinly veiled anti-Semitic tropes. Canada’s Jews are the most targeted group for hate crimes. And violent anti-Zionist anti-Semitism remains prevalent.

We’ve also got Canadian Jews, including many Holocaust survivors, living in poverty. And that was well before a global pandemic decimated our communal resources.

Yet we are expending massive community resources to destroy a single (misguided, hateful, and undoubtedly anti-Semitic) woman and her business.

I certainly wouldn’t shop there myself, and I don’t think you should either. But we clearly have the resources to address deep, systemic anti-Semitism and Foodbenders is only a symptom of a deeper problem. In a world where we’re all focused on our health, let’s focus on the sickness, not the symptom.

Correction: An earlier draft of this piece omitted a tweet from CIJA denouncing vandalism. It has now been included. We also omitted mention of a line in an OpEd by the CEO of B’nai Brith Canada condemning vandalism. We sincerely regret the error.

Zack Babins is a Professional Jew and Recovering Jewish Professional™, an occasional political communicator and a constant seeker of attention.


Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.