Philadelphia café vandalized after support for Palestine

Jasmine Amira Taibi-Bennoui, owner of Lombard Café in the Society Hill neighborhood of Philadelphia, and the café’s workers have faced harassment, violence, doxxing, and frequent threats after hosting a fund-raiser art fair for Gaza in November. 

Jasmine Amira Taibi-Bennoui addresses press conference outside Lombard Cafe, Philadelphia, May 17, 2024.

Taibi-Bennoui filed four reports with Philadelphia police over confrontations and threats made toward her and café staff since then.

It was the last straw on May 15 when the café was vandalized, with damage done to the back door, and pro-Israel stickers plastered on the front of the building. The power for security cameras was cut, preventing a video of the incident.

Now, the café owners are fighting back. 

Addressing a May 17 press conference organized by the Council on American-Israeli Relations (CAIR), Jewish Voice for Peace, the Philadelphia Palestine Coalition, and the multiracial interfaith group POWER, Taibi-Bennoui stated: “It is my right to call for a ceasefire — now and forever. It is my right to raise money to care for Palestinians, for people in need. My staff and I should be able to operate a business while holding these views.”

From the turnout at the press event, it was clear that this self-described first generation Arab American, Algerian and Muslim woman is not alone. Around 75 people — workers, customers, neighbors, and members of solidarity organizations showed up to unite against hate.

CAIR Philadelphia’s Executive Director Ahmet Selim Tekelioglu, who chaired the press event, stated: “This press conference shows the best of what a neighborhood can be when we face hate — face anti-Muslim, anti-women, anti-Palestinian hate. We are united around a belief that we can stand up for one another in difficult times against hate.”

Attacks in historic Black neighborhood

The Lombard Café is located directly across the street from the historic Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, which was formed in 1816 by Richard Allen, a formerly enslaved person. The church is a historic landmark, as it is the oldest parcel of land continuously owned by Black people in the U.S. On Feb. 19, three of the church’s historic stained glass windows, dating back to 1889, were smashed. The vandalism took place just days after the church hosted the kickoff for a peace march for Palestine.

The Rev. Mark Kelly Tyler, senior pastor at Mother Bethel, addressed the press conference, noting that the corner of Lombard and Sixth streets was historic for resisting racial hatred. “The churches here where people spoke out against slavery were burned to the ground,” Tyler said, noting that Allen bought guns to protect the church. “We are here again because somebody chose to stay and fight back.”

Samar, a member of the Philadelphia Palestine Coalition, said: “As a Palestinian, it has felt unsafe to walk down these streets since October. It is scary, as a Muslim woman, as a Palestinian, but the Lombard Café has always provided a safe, welcoming environment.”

Pennsylvania State Senator Nikil Saval who represents the neighborhood, Palestinian-born Jude Husein, Director of State Advocacy for the Pennsylvania State Senate, and Marwan Kreidie, President of the Arab American Association, also spoke.

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