Cal­i­for­nia bak­ery’s ter­ror­ist mu­ral sparks free speech fight

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. - BY VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON

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.

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