Recently opened Oakland bakery Reem's, the first brick-and-mortar shop to come out of Syrian-Palestinian baker Reem Assil's former mobile operation, has barely been open three months, and it's become a target of anti-Muslim hate. In a statement posted to her website, Assil says that she's had to "endure racist attacks on email, phone, Yelp, and social media," but she says, "Despite how difficult these attacks are, we keep our heads high."
The attacks stem from publicity surrounding a mural in the bakery that depicts a smiling Arab woman who turns out to be Palestinian activist Rasmea Odeh, whom the Israeli government convicted in 1970 in connection with a grocery store bombing in Jerusalem in 1969 that killed two people. Odeh, who was released in a prisoner exchange in 1979, has been hailed as a hero by some for her women's rights activism here in the US, and there are those on the left like Assil who doubt her guilt and cite her testimony of extensive torture by Israeli soldiers before the UN. Still, many in the Jewish community still consider her a terrorist.
Assil's choice in honoring Odeh was, needless to say, a bold and controversial one, and "a shot fired," as Eater pointed out in June. Thus it was no surprise when Reem's ended up being called out by Breitbart leading directly to the harassment campaign by Brietbart fans and those on the right who heard about the bakery.
"Fake reviews and online bullying won’t deter us," Assil writes. "We remain committed to our vision of building strong and resilient communities, and will continue to do so by building a sanctuary space for people to come together across cultures, generations, and experiences. And of course, providing delicious, nourishing food and good jobs for our community."
Assil believes that bread, along with activism, is a cornerstone of community, and as she told the Chronicle on the occasion of being named a 2017 Rising Star, "With Reem’s, I wanted the American public to know what Arabs are really about. And what attracts people to the space I’m creating is they can tell it gives them a chance to show off their own cultures."
A former community organizer herself, Assil defended the Odeh mural to Berkeleyside, comparing her to a "modern day Malcolm X" and saying, "Three and a half years ago, the [U.S.] government was doing a sweep of Palestinian activists; trying to take civil cases and try them as terrorist cases. [Odeh] is the final frontier of that. She embodies the resilience of Arab women fighting for justice in this country. She is an elder to a lot of us younger women who are activists and want to do right among our community... She is divisive because she’s an advocate for Palestinian self-determination and anti-Israeli government occupation. Any time you put up a Palestinian figure it’s going to be divisive."
The group Showing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ) posted a statement of support this week saying, "We recognize that the threats and intimidation directed at Reem’s are part of a larger effort to silence local Palestinian and Muslim communities. These threats are a symptom of emboldened Islamophobia and racism. Any business rooted in social justice, sustainability and community building, as Reem’s is, will inevitably face an uphill battle in a capitalist marketplace."
Below, a video in which Assil discusses Odeh and her legacy.