Last night, a crowd of some 15 protesters gathered in front of a cozy café and bar at the corner of Valencia and 16th streets in the heart of the Mission District, shouting “Manny is a Zionist and a gentrifier” and “Free, free Palestine.” One man with a bullhorn announced: “Zionism is a racist ideology responsible for killing and displacing generations of Palestinians.” A few cars and one Muni driver honked in support as they drove by.
Just another Wednesday night at Manny’s.
Manny Yekutiel opened his eponymous establishment in November, calling the Middle Eastern café a “civic social gathering space.” At the time, he told J. that he was “not presuming to invent the concept of coffee, food, beer and wine combined with politics and activism. People have been doing this for a very long time.”
The doors opened on election night, Nov. 6, and more than 500 people came to watch and discuss the results. Since then, Manny’s has earned praise for hosting talks with speakers on issues ranging from Black Lives Matter to urban sustainability.
But every Wednesday evening these days, protesters have staged themselves outside the café, accusing Yekutiel, who is Jewish, of espousing “racist, Zionist, pro-Israel ideals.” His place has been vandalized and painted with anti-Semitic and anti-Israel slogans, according to local reports.
The protesters, part of a self-described “radical black queer direct action group fighting anti-blackness in the Bay Area” known as the Lucy Parsons Project, in December called on the public to “boycott Manny’s and its ‘woke-washing’ of the Mission.”
In a letter to the media, the group said “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 attempts at invading and destroying our community through ‘woke-washing’!!”
On Jan. 9, in defiance of the protesters, one man on his way into Manny’s moved through the crowd waving a small Israeli flag, shouting: “Israel is a peace-loving country!”
Business was bustling. Customers ate and drank at tables and at the bar. A few perused bookshelves that displayed titles such as “(((Semitism)))” by Jonathan Weisman and a collection of works by James Baldwin side-by-side.
The irony of the protests has not been lost on Yekutiel’s supporters. He is the son of an Afghan refugee, worked on campaigns for both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and has been active with groups supporting immigration reform and marriage equality. An out gay activist, he was part of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation’s first cohort of LGBT Jewish leaders in its Pathways to Jewish Leadership program.
As Yekutiel pointed out in a recent opinion piece in the San Francisco Chronicle, the kitchen is staffed with formerly homeless individuals and run by the nonprofit Farming Hope, and he has given free or low-cost space to more than 25 nonprofits, such as Mission Graduates, Indivisible, Citizens’ Climate Lobby and the Instituto Familiar de la Raza.
So what are the protesters upset about?
“Yekutiel’s belief in the Jewish State’s right to exist is, it seems, the only accurate allegation made against him,” Mission Local editor Joe Eskenazi wrote on Jan. 7.
While Yekutiel indeed supports Israel’s right to exist and celebrates the Jewish state, he said he does not support the Israeli government wholesale and disagrees with its treatment of the Palestinians.
“I’m a religious Jew and proud of it,” he wrote in his Chronicle op-ed. Noting that some of his family lives in Israel, he said, “As a liberal American Jew, I have complicated feelings about Israel. I do not support everything that its government does (nor everything our American government does). My hope for the Israeli and Palestinian people is to soon live in peace with mutual recognition in sovereign and safe borders. This complex issue is a perfect example of the need for high-quality discourse.”