By Johnny Díaz
White House and state officials said a protest Sunday was hateful and antisemitic after dozens of pro-Palestinian demonstrators opposed to Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip chanted slogans charging “genocide” outside an Israeli-style falafel shop in Philadelphia.
The White House issued a statement Monday that called the protest targeting the establishment “unjustifiable,” adding to reaction from Pennsylvania officials.
A video clip posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, showed the pro-Palestinian protesters outside Goldie, a vegan falafel shop owned by Michael Solomonov, an Israeli-born chef, and Steve Cook, a former investment banker-turned-restaurateur, through their Philadelphia hospitality group, CookNSolo Restaurants.
“Goldie, Goldie, you can’t hide. We charge you with genocide,” the group chanted in the video taken Sunday.
The White House joined Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro in condemning the focus of protesters on the restaurant.
“It is antisemitic and completely unjustifiable to target restaurants that serve Israeli food over disagreements with Israeli policy,” Andrew Bates, a White House spokesperson, said in Monday’s statement.
“This behavior reveals the kind of cruel and senseless double standard that is a calling card of antisemitism,” Bates said.
He added that President Joe Biden “will always stand up firmly against these kinds of undignified actions.”
Social media postings from accounts going by The Philly Palestine Coalition and The Philadelphia Free Palestine Coalition called on people to “flood Philly for Gaza” on Sunday, but did not name the restaurant. Their invitation also called for a lift to “the siege on Gaza” and to “end military aid to Israel.” It was unclear from their social media posts whether those organizations intended to protest at Goldie or how long that demonstration lasted, and messages sent to the groups’ social media accounts had not been answered Monday.
Through a spokesperson, Solomonov, who is Jewish and was born near Tel Aviv, declined to comment Monday.
A prominent, award-winning chef, Solomonov has several restaurants serving Israeli food in Philadelphia, including Zahav, which opened in 2008. A group called the Philly Palestine Coalition has called for a boycott of many of his restaurants.
After the start of the Israel-Hamas war, Solomonov announced he would donate proceeds from sales on Oct. 12 to Friends of United Hatzalah, a nonprofit emergency medical service in Israel.
Sunday’s protest came amid mounting violence as Israel vowed to root out Hamas, the Palestinian group that controls the Gaza Strip and launched a surprise attack against Israel on Oct. 7, killing about 1,200 people. That attack prompted intense retaliation that has killed more than 15,000 people in Gaza, according to officials in Gaza.
There have been street demonstrations in Philadelphia, New York, and other cities and towns around the United States by pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian protesters.
Jewish advocacy groups such as the Anti-Defamation League have reported a rise in antisemitic threats and incidents in the United States. The group said in October that it had recorded 312 antisemitic episodes between Oct. 7 and Oct. 23, with 190 of those directly linked to the Israel-Hamas war.
On Sunday and Monday, state leaders in Pennsylvania took to social media to criticize the protest outside Goldie.
Shapiro shared a clip of the protest on X and described it as “a blatant act of antisemitism — not a peaceful protest.”
He added that the restaurant “was targeted and mobbed because its owner is Jewish and Israeli.”
“This hate and bigotry is reminiscent of a dark time in history,” he said.
Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., said on X that demonstrators could instead protest “Hamas’ systematic rape of Israeli women and girls” or demand that “the remaining hostages be immediately released.”
Rep. Brendan Boyle, a Democrat whose district includes Philadelphia, said on X that “Philadelphia stands against this sort of harassment and hate.”
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said Monday that the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations would look into the protest.