Over the weekend I popped by Manny’s, the new café at 16th and Valencia to check out what all the fuss was about. The place was bustling, most of the tables were full and there was a substantial line to order – all good news for a spot that just opened.
Manny’s might be the perfect business for the Mission District at this moment in time. The owner, Manny Yekutiel, spent a year talking to business owners, community leaders, and anti-gentrification activists in the neighborhood to find out what they thought would benefit the area the most – and then he built it.
Manny’s employs people that are formerly homeless and formerly incarcerated, it puts on a diverse roster of events including evenings with social justice leaders like Alicia Garza, Lateefah Simon, and Jackie Speier, the interior signage and the staff are bilingual, the in-house bookshop – curated by Dog Eared Books – focuses on activism and social justice, and the café has been made accessible to the community by purposefully keeping prices low and having a “no one turned away for lack of funds” policy for the few events that have cover charges.
By any litmus test, it’s the most thoughtful and community minded business to open in decades. And that was the point. Manny set out to create a space were folks could meet the people working on the front lines of the issues facing our world, and where they could have difficult conversations face to face instead of sniping mean comments at each other on the internet.
So why then is there a small group of protestors outside every Wednesday calling on people to boycott Manny’s? It’s because of a 2017 Facebook post Yekutiel made that said “Anyone know of some good Zionist organizations in the Bay where I can plug in and help?”
Zionist is an incredibly loaded word. For some it means the belief that Israel has a right to exist. For others it signifies supporting the oppression of the Palestinian people. Members of groups like the Lucy Parsons Project and Gay Shame seized upon Yekutiel’s post as proof that Manny’s should be shut down because it was a cover “for a pro-elite, pro-Zionist and pro-gentrification agenda” as Laura Waxmann mentioned in her article about the controversy. In an email to media outlets the Lucy Parsons Project went on to call Manny’s a “gentrifying wine-bar, cafe and fake ‘social justice’ space” and that Yekutiel has “unequivocally espoused racist, Zionist, pro-Israel ideals”. The email went on to say “We will not tolerate gentrifiers and Zionists attempts at invading and destroying our community through ‘woke-washing’!!”
And so the weekly Wednesday protests began.
When I asked Yekutiel (who is both Queer and Jewish) about the Facebook post in a phone interview he said. “I posted that in response to the incident where a group of women were kicked out of the Chicago Dyke March for waving rainbow flags with the Star of David on them. To me the removal of those woman felt like a pointed attack on Queer Jews.”
While the Star of David is on the Israeli flag, it’s also a symbol for all Jews everywhere. The ignorance of this, purposeful or not, is not only problematic, it allows for people to conflate the actions of the Israeli government with all Jews.
Yekutiel went on to discuss how he doesn’t support the settlements in the West Bank, doesn’t support Benjamin Netanyahu, and is against anything that gets in the way of people living side by side in peace. “The Palestinians deserve their own home,” he said.
Considering part of the reason Manny’s was founded was to help facilitate folks having difficult conversations in person, Yekutiel has invited Gay Shame and the Lucy Parsons Project to the café to discuss the controversy. Yekutiel says they’ve refused. Unfortunately, things have become more anti-Semitic and more threatening.
As Joe Esekanzi discusses in his article on the issue, the initial email from the Lucy Parsons Project already had anti-Semitic undertones by using classic “Jew-as-interloper-and-parasite language (‘invading and destroying our community…’),” but then things got worse. Blatantly anti-Semitic cartoons were posted in the Manny’s Facebook group (they’ve since been deleted), then there was graffiti of a Star of David as well as the words “fuck Zionism” on the exterior of the café, and a window was also broken.
Then there were threats made to the Mission Housing Development Corporation, the oldest and one of the largest non-profit community housing developers in San Francisco. MHDC is Manny’s landlord and supported Yekutiel getting his vision off the ground. In a phone interview MHDC Executive Director Sam Moss told me about how he’d gotten a call from a blocked number. When he answered it an anonymous man began yelling “You should be ashamed of yourself for using Mission resources for furthering the Zionist agenda. You better watch you back!”
Multiple people also told Moss that they’d seen quickly deleted posts on Facebook saying that, if the protestors needed to result to violence to get what they want “then so be it”. Members of the board at MHDC have also received letters calling for Moss to be fired for supporting Manny’s.
Luckily all this controversy hasn’t overshadowed the excellent work that Manny’s is doing. In fact it’s done the opposite. All the attention has ended up hipping way more people to them than would’ve known about them otherwise. And on Wednesday nights, as a way to counter the protestors outside, Manny’s gets packed with supporters who come from all over the Bay Area. In fact last week they sold out of nearly everything they had.
The real story here is not the things happening outside of Manny’s for one loud hour on Wednesdays, it’s what’s going on inside all week long. And those things are pretty special.
Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com and join his mailing list to stay up on the work he’s doing: http://bit.ly/BrokeAssList. His guest column, Broke-Ass City, runs Thursdays in the Examiner.