Gay Jewish Owner of San Francisco Civic Engagement Space Faces Weekly Protests
Manny’s Cafe, a civic engagement space in San Francisco’s Mission District, has been facing an onslaught of protest.
Manny Yekutiel, the space’s owner, is the gay son of an Afghan refugee. He opened the doorsto the community space in November 2016. Since then, it’s been a hub for cultural and intellectual discourse. It has been a host to speakers from many social justice causes, including Black Lives Matter. Visitors are also welcome to peruse the space’s bookstore for titles from authors like Ta-Nehisi Coates and Howard Zinn. The food at the space is prepared daily by Farming Hope, a non-profit employing the homeless.
Still, this hasn’t stopped a San Francisco-based advocacy group The Lucy Parsons Project from demonizing the space. The group meets every Wednesday since December to protest Manny’s. The reasoning? Manny Yekutiel is a ‘Zionist gentrifier.’
The group’s signs include slogans like ‘Zionists out of the Mission,’ ‘Free Palestine,’ ‘Manny’s = homelessness,’ and more.
The Lucy Parsons Project describes themselves as a ‘radical black queer direct action group fighting anti-blackness in the Bay Area.’
This group has 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!”’
In Manny’s own words
‘I worked on both the Obama and Clinton campaigns and, after 2016, was struck by the thirst for civic engagement. Here was a citizenry, with their hands raised, looking for a starting place for action and unsure of how to begin — that’s what 2016 inspired. Seeing this problem, I gathered a community to build a physical civic events space called Manny’s at the corner of 16th and Valencia streets in San Francisco,’ Yekutiel wrote in a recent op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle.
‘We’ve had elected officials and advocates in the space, artists and poets and change-makers coming in to teach and to learn. The space is fulfilling a real need.’
‘Amid this remarkable coming-together of people from all walks of life, there also have been fringe activists who’ve gained an outsized voice demonizing Manny’s online. The far-right has attacked the business and me when they’ve disapproved of a guest speaker. The alt-left has pushed vitriolic lies and hatred on social media. Claims such as the space is a Zionist takeover of the Mission has emboldened people to walk in off the street and demand to know if the owner is Jewish.’
‘The building has been vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti [and] is the target of weekly protests. The business has been ideologically extorted: tell us if you’re a Zionist so we can try to drive you out of business. Given the mission of Manny’s, we have invited these individuals into the space for dialogue, but their goal is to shut down discourse, not engage in it.’
‘I’m a religious Jew and proud of it. My father escaped persecution in Afghanistan and journeyed, partly on foot, to Israel to reunite with family who had previously escaped oppression and found safety there. My little sister was almost blown up by a suicide bomber at a bus stop in Jerusalem,’ Yekutiel explains.
‘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). Israel and the United States have provided my family with safety when other countries haven’t. But that doesn’t mean I support the ending of innocent life. 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.’
‘What bonds ideological absolutists on the left and the right is precisely what inspired the building of this new space — the opportunity to reverse corrosive incivility and to have vibrant discussion about complicated subjects,’ he says. ‘The ugliness of online discourse has made people hungry for the constructive in-person dialogue we are fostering at Manny’s.’
Manny Yekutiel is not the only liberal LGBTI Jew who has faced backlash due to assumed support of Israel. In 2017, Jewish lesbians were asked to leave the Chicago Dyke March because they had a Star of David on their Pride flag. The organizers deemed them ‘Zionist’ and thus unwelcome. Wendy Sue Biegeleisen, one of the founders of Dyke March, called the action anti-Semitic.