California bakery’s terrorist mural sparks free speech fight
Bakery owner Reem Assil has a First Amendment right to display a mural at her shop honoring convicted terrorist Rasmea Odeh, but protesters say she should respect their right to object to it.
Instead, Ms. Assil has filed for a restraining order to keep away Michael Lumish, a writer and former college professor who joined a handful of others at protests last month outside her Oakland, California, bakery.
The request for the court order claims Mr. Lumish “engaged in harassing and aggressive behavior repeatedly over the last month.”
Mr. Lumish, meanwhile, says he participated in two peaceful protests with a group of mostly older Jews.
“There were four or five of us. A guy named [Matthew] Finkelstein. It’s me and him and a couple of old ladies,” Mr. Lumish said of the July 22 protest. “We’re not exactly antifa. We’re not wearing black masks or anything.”
By now, Odeh may be living out of the country after being slated for deportation to Jordan at an Aug. 17 court hearing in Detroit, but the uproar over her legacy is far from over.
A member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, she was convicted in a 1969 supermarket bombing in Jerusalem that killed two Hebrew University students, then released 10 years later in a prisoner exchange.
Despite that, she is a heroine on the anti-Israel left for her Palestinian advocacy and work with Arab women for more than 20 years in Chicago, where she landed after lying on her U.S. visa application about her criminal past.
Odeh supporters argue that she was tortured by Israeli military into confessing, which federal prosecutors dispute.
“I put Rasmea up there because she is an emblem of resilience,” Ms. Assil, a former community organizer and labor activist, told San Francisco Eater, a website focused on the city’s restaurant scene. “She reminds me that as an Arab woman, I should never be afraid to speak up against injustice, no matter what the consequence.”
For Mr. Lumish, however, seeing Odeh’s smiling face on the brightly colored, wall-sized mural at Reem’s, located near his home next to the Fruitvale BART station, is like looking at “a friggin’ Nazi swastika.”
“Rasmea Odeh is a murderer. She’s a murderer of Jews,” Mr. Lumish said. “As far as I’m concerned, she’s a genocidal, anti-Semitic maniac. I’ve been a Democrat for 25 years. It’s hard for me to imagine that somebody who did this is being celebrated.”
Rose Mishaan, attorney for Ms. Assil, declined to comment. “Given that this involves a pending legal matter, neither myself nor my client is available to make any public statements regarding the case at this time,” she said.
In her application, Ms. Assil accused the protesters of targeting her “because of this mural and my identity as a Palestinian-American.” She said she received harassing emails and phone calls after she opened her restaurant in May.
The bakery was reportedly flooded with negative Yelp reviews after a May 30 op-ed in the Jewish News of Northern California headlined, “A bakery that dishes out hatred in Oakland.”
Her defenders have responded by turning her bakery into a cause celebre. Workers World said the bakery had been “assailed by Zionists and Islamophobes,” while the Venezuelan media outlet teleSur said Reem’s was the victim of a “coordinated assault.”
“The attacks coming against Reem’s are part and parcel of the increased attacks we are seeing against Arab and Muslim communities, even more so under Trump,” Chris Lymbertos of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center told Workers World, a communist publication.
Video taken at the July 22 protest shows Mr. Lumish and a handful of others, including California Democratic Party delegate Susan George, a supporter of Bernard Sanders, facing off on the sidewalk against a dozen or so friends of Ms. Assil blocking access to the bakery.
The band of anti-Odeh protesters hold “Remember the Victims” posters with photos of the students killed in the bombing: Edward Joffe and Leon Kanner.
Mr. Lumish, the most animated of the protesters, can be seen arguing with the younger Reem’s supporters.
“Why don’t we just go to the Unabomber cafe instead?” Mr. Lumish asks at one point. “Would that be better for you guys?”
Reem’s represents the latest bakery to be caught up in a free speech debate, following battles over cakes for same-sex weddings involving Christian owners at Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado and Sweet Cakes by Melissa in Oregon.
Not far from Reem’s in Oakland is baker Ashley Shotwell, who ignited controversy this month by posting a cake decorated with the message “Kill Nazis” and weapons favored by the antifa, including a spiked bat and brass knuckles.
The request for a restraining order seeks to keep Mr. Lumish at least 100 yards away from the bakery and ban him from protesting, as well as harassing, intimidating or assaulting Reem’s customers and staff.
Ms. Assil also asks the court to stop Mr. Lumish from posting or making “defamatory remarks about myself, my business, or my customers online or in the media,” adding that the order is needed “to protect myself and my business.”
A mural at an Oakland, California, bakery honoring Palestinian activist Rasmea Odeh has sparked fight over the right to free speech.