Busboys & Poets Troubling on Israel?

DC cafe Busboys and Poets is widely extolled for its open-mic poetry nights, organic coffee, and intellectual feel. Opened in 2005 by Andy (Anas) Shallal, an Iraqi American, the business has since expanded to three other locations in the D.C. area.

According to its website, Busboys and Poets is “a community resource for artists, activists, writers, thinkers and dreamers.” However, a look into this establishment’s list of events may be troubling for those who consider themselves supportive of Israel.

In recent years, Busboys has hosted a number of arguably anti-Israel events, including, for example, giving a platform to Helen Thomas (who said Israeli Jews should all “go back to Poland” and was subsequently booted from reporting in the White House). In late May of this year, the restaurant held a memorial for Furkan Dogan, a Turkish American who was killed while attempting to stab an Israel Defense Forces soldier during the Mavi Marmara incident.[1]

Most recently, two Israel-related events took place at two different locations of Busboys in late July.

The first event, held on July 20th at the Hyattsville location, centered around a group discussion of the memoirs of Sami al Jundi.  A former terrorist, al Jundi reformed while in Israeli prison and later co-founded the Seeds of Peace Center for Coexistence in Jerusalem. Unfortunately, al Jundi’s message of reconciliation-oriented dialogue may not have manifested during the event:  A community member who attended the event reported that patrons not only referred to terrorists as freedom fighters, but went so far as to call Israel a “crusader state” and compare Israeli soldiers to Nazis, in that “they intentionally target and murder Arab peace activists” in attempts to avoid a peaceful solution. According to GTJ’s source, such patrons were neither openly reprimanded by the organizers nor countered by a more balanced perspective. Consequently, the GTJ source felt uncomfortable making pro-Israeli statements to the group.

The second event, held on July 24th at the downtown DC location, was a report back from the second (failed) flotilla to Gaza (see pictures below). As a donations box for future endeavors was passed around a crowded room, flotilla activists on stage described their recent failed attempt to sail with “aid” to Gaza. (Some perspective: Israel sends 260 trucks carrying 6,000 tons of goods to Gaza daily, while the previous flotilla carried only 4,000 tons of goods, consisting mostly of expired medical equipment.  Moreover, the Greek government offered to send aid to Gaza through existing channels on behalf of the stymied second flotilla, in lieu of allowing them to sail, but this alternative was rejected by flotilla organizers.)

Funding the next flotilla

One of the participants at this event was Gabriel Schivone, a man falsely identifying himself as Jewish in order to generate “insider credibility” for his criticism of Israel. Additionally, the parents of Rachel Corrie — a pro-Palestinian activist killed in Gaza [2] — spoke at this event (pictured below with the owner). Meanwhile, candles burned next to photographs of dead Turkish combatants from the Mavi Marmara.  Like Furkan Dogan, these men had brought weapons on board and attempted to kill Israeli soldiers who boarded the ship for inspection. According to a community member who attended, patrons also discussed ways to involve college students in new anti-Israel activities.

This is not the first flotilla fundraiser held at a Busboys location. A similar event took place at the Shirlington, VA, location in September, 2010.

In response to GTJ’s inquiries, Mr. Shallal said that no one had brought any concerns to his attention regarding offensive language at the discussion of al Jundi’s memoirs. He emphasized that “had such comments been made, someone would have been there to counter them.” He added that the establishment does not articulate rules for such book discussions and that he has “little control over what people say within small conversations that take place regularly at peace cafes or in other venues.” He did not give GTJ a statement regarding any of the flotilla events.

Stephen Richer is co-founder and president of Gather the Jews.  This piece is the product of work by Stephen on an individual level and does not represent a GTJ institutional stance.

Have a different perspective that you’d like to share? Write to info@gatherthejews.com.

Rachel Corrie’s parents with Busboys & Poets owner.


































[1] The Mavi Marmara was a Turkish ship that attempted to break Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza on May 31, 2010, as part of a six-ship flotilla known as the ‘Gaza Freedom Flotilla’. The ship claimed to be bearing humanitarian aid for the residents of Gaza. After boarding the ship to search it, IDF forces uncovered a cache of weapons that were used to violently attack the soldiers. Activists had previously stated (on May 30) that violence was premeditated. The five other ships in the flotilla were towed into the Ashdod port without incident.

[2] The matter of Corrie’s death is the subject of some controversy. Palestinians and protesters from the International Solidarity Movement accused an IDF Caterpillar D9 bulldozer of running over Corrie deliberately as she attempted to block the destruction of a Palestinian home. The IDF contends Corrie’s death was an accident, resulting from the D9’s inability to see Corrie behind a large pile of dirt.