Large wall mural of convicted terrorist murderer Rasmea Odeh dominates the restaurant, but Food & Wine calls the controversy “a polarizing distraction”
We previously reported how Food & Wine magazine honored Reem’s Oakland restaurant despite Reem’s glorifying convicted terrorist murderer Rasmea Odeh with a large wall mural in a prominent place in the restaurant.
Please see the prior post for background on Rasmea’s murder of two Hebrew University students in an 1969 supermarket bombing in Jerusalem, her conviction for immigration fraud and deportation from the U.S. in 2017, and how the owner of Reem’s, Reem Assil, has tried to shut down protests outside the restaurant, Food & Wine mag honors Reem’s Oakland restaurant, ignores wall-sized mural of terrorist.
The point of the prior post was not that Food & Wine should delve into the politics of the owners of restaurants it reviews, but that in this case Food & Wine author Jordana Rothman chose to make Reem Assil’s politics a focus of the restaurant review, but didn’t even mention the wall mural or protests:
The article, by F&W Restaurant Editor Jordanna Rothman, includes Reem’s of Oakland, CA. In the introduction to the article, Rothman notes: “At Reem’s in Oakland, California, I was moved by Reem Assil, a Syrian and Palestinian chef who uses food to cultivate understanding for the Arab experience in America.”
The review of Reem’s goes far beyond the menu or food preparation, and focuses heavily on the atmosphere at the restaurant. The review states, in part (emphasis added):
Food as a vehicle for healing is at the center of everything here. Assil has roots in the local foods movement of the Bay Area—Reem’s started out as a farmers market stand. And so the produce is local, the meat from nearby halal butchers. The dough for those man’oushe breads gets its tang from a Tartine Bakery starter and may be topped with cumin from Burlap & Barrel, a company emphasizing ethical sourcing in Afghanistan, Palestine, and elsewhere.
At a moment when touchstones of Middle Eastern cuisine like tahini and pomegranate molasses appear on menus all over the country, Reem’s offers an opportunity to see those flavors, often attributed to Israel, through a wider lens, one inclusive of the Arab perspective. “I wanted to cultivate understanding in the most humane way possible—through food,” says Assil, who makes her case with orange blossom–scented cookies, spinach pastries spiced with cinnamon and sumac, and warm flatbread bundling sujuk sausage. “I look around my restaurant on a Saturday afternoon. I see Jews and Arabs eating together. I see people who are not politicized just enjoying a meal. And I think, this is what peace looks like.”
Having put Reem Assil’s politics front and center, Food & Wine ignored one aspect of that politics, the glorification of a terrorist:
There is one problem with this Food & Wine narrative of Reem’s as a place of healing and peace.
One very big problem.
A problem so big it takes up an entire wall in Restaurant at Reem’s, right up front in a highly visible place. Reem’s has a wall-sized mural of convicted terrorist killer Rasmea Odeh….
It’s not necessary, or even desirable, that restaurant reviews go into the politics of the owner. Politics does not have to infuse every aspect of our lives.
Food & Wine, nonetheless, decided to make Reem Assil’s politics the centerpiece of the review and one of the main reasons Reem’s was put on the prestigious list of Favorite Restaurants 2018. That portrayal, however, was sanitized.
Food & Wine ignored the elephant in the room, or rather, the mural on the wall.
I never got a response to my emails and tweets to Food & Wine and Rothman, but apparently a lot of other people also contacted Food & Wine because it’s editor Hunter Lewis has issued a statement standing by the honor bestowed on Reem’s (h/t IsraellyCool). Here is the statement in full, emphasis added:
When Restaurant Editor Jordana Rothman returned to the office after a months-long scouting trip for Restaurants of the Year, one of the dishes she raved about the most was the savory mu’ajinaat pastries at Reem’s in Oakland, California. She described the sunny vibe of the bakery by the Fruitvale BART Station and owner Reem Assil’s heightened focus on community. Rothman also discussed with our editorial team the controversial mural of Rasmea Odeh painted on one of the bakery’s walls.
Odeh was convicted in 1970 in an Israeli military court for her role in a supermarket bombing that killed two civilians and the attempted bombing of the British Consulate. She was released from prison in 1979 as part of a prisoner exchange. Her supporters argue that her conviction was the result of coercion. Last year, after a three-year legal battle, Odeh was deported from the United States for making false statements about her imprisonment on her naturalization application.
Much has already been written about Odeh and about the mural at Reem’s. Assil, who grew up in a Syrian-Palestinian family in Sudbury, Massachusetts, publicly defended the work last year in a talk with Real Food Real Stories.
In the course of her reporting with Assil, Rothman says she encountered a proud and thoughtful business owner, looking to express and share her identity as an Arab-American woman. “I wanted to cultivate understanding in the most humane way possible—through food,” Assil told Rothman in Food & Wine last month. “I look around my restaurant on a Saturday afternoon. I see Jews and Arabs eating together. I see people who are not politicized just enjoying a meal. And I think, this is what peace looks like.”
Ultimately, the mural is a polarizing distraction from the larger point, especially now in our charged political climate. To dismiss Assil and Reem’s based on the portrait of a divisive figure rendered in paint is to deny the full impact of the restaurant, its role in the Oakland community, and its place in a global social and political conversation. We recognize Reem’s because we see intrinsic value in widening our readers’ understanding of the foodways of the Middle East and expanding the chorus of voices we empower to tell that story.
In other words, Reem’s is a place meant to build bridges, not burn them. That’s why Reem’s is a Restaurant of the Year.
From the editor’s statement, we learn that Rothman and Food & Wine’s editorial staff were aware of the terrorist mural. So the decision not to mention it at all in the restaurant review was deliberate – confirming my view that Food & Wine deliberately sought to present a sanitized version of Reem Assil’s politics. There’s nothing honorable in that selective and misleading political narrative which formed a key part of the award to Reem’s.
To portray concerns about the terrorist glorification as “a polarizing distraction,” and to describe Rasmea Odeh as a “divisive figure” adds insult to insult. Food & Wine chose to make politics part of its restaurant review, yet left out the most important part of Reem Assil’s politics at the restaurant.
There is a petition at Change.org which was launched yesterday, Food & Wine Magazine: Stop Supporting Terrorism and Violence Against Jews. It reads, in part:
In April 2018, Food & Wine Magazine named Oakland’s “Reem’s California” one of their 2018 Restaurants of the Year. The magazine paints the Arab Bakery as a “vehicle for healing” where Jews and Arabs can eat together and enjoy a meal in peace.
The restaurant also has a wall-sized mural of convicted terrorist Rasmea Odeh, who was found guilty of two bombings in Jerusalem, including one that killed two innocent Hebrew University students, Leon Kanner and Eddie Joffe, at a supermarket in 1969. She was sentenced to life in prison but was released in 1979 as part of a prisoner swap with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Odeh did not disclose her criminal record when she applied for a U.S. Visa in 1994, or when she applied for citizenship in 2004. She pleaded guilty in April 2017 to misleading U.S. immigration officials, and finally had her citizenship revoked in August 2017 and was deported to Jordan from Chicago.
As such, it is completely irresponsible for Food & Wine Magazine to choose Reem’s California as one of their Restaurants of the Year and subsequently condone the honoring and glorification of convicted supermarket bomber and terrorist Rasmea Odeh.
In response to criticism of the magazine’s decision to honor a restaurant that openly supports those who commit violent attacks against Jews and Israelis, Editor-in-Chief Hunter Lewis responded by saying, “To dismiss Reem Assil and Reem’s based on the mural of a divisive figure is to deny the full impact of this restaurant, its role in the Oakland community, and its place in a global social and political conversation. We stand by our decision because we see intrinsic value in widening our readers’ understanding of the foodways of the Middle East and expanding the chorus of voices we empower to tell that story.”
We condemn Food & Wine Magazine for their blatant disregard for Jewish lives and for Lewis’ reducing Rasmea Odeh to only a “divisive figure.” We doubt the families of Leon and Eddie, who lost their young sons to Odeh’s senseless violence, would agree that she is only “divisive.”
Please sign this petition to demand that Food & Wine retract their endorsement of Reem’s California and apologize for condoning the glorification of a convicted terrorist. Food & Wine Magazine should be ashamed of what is ultimately support of violence against Jews and Israelis.
In just a day, the Petition has garnered over 750 signatures (as of this writing).
Reem Assil’s food star is rising thanks, in part, to Food & Wine’s award and other professional foodies who choose to look the other way as Reem’s Oakland mixes support for a terrorist murderer with food.DONATE
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