A kosher eatery in Teaneck, New Jersey has attracted a barrage of anti-Israel comments and negative online reviews, including claims that its cuisine was “stolen”.
The culinary battleground emerged after Yalla, a kosher eatery located on a quiet street in Teaneck NJ, was targeted. Yalla seems to have provoked particular anger due to its name as Yalla is an Arabic word but widely used in Israel to mean “let’s go.”
According to Israeli owner Jacob Goldberg, Yalla had received a number of politically-motivated negative reviews in recent years from people who claimed that he “stole” the name, “stole” their land or “stole” the food.
Most of the time, said Mr Goldberg, he simply alerted Google and asked for reviews to be removed. He explained that “where it’s very obviously hate-speech,” the reviews come down but “if it’s food-related, such as ‘I found a hair in my food,’” even though it was posted by “someone from Damascus” who had “obviously never been to my restaurant,” the review stays. Mr Goldberg decided, therefore, on a new tactic. He responded to a review that led the “critic” to use social media to call on anti-Israel users to pile on and place negative reviews.
Mr Goldberg believes there were at least 300 negative reviews posted in one evening, some of which also included Palestinian flags and the words “Free Palestine.” As well as claiming that Yalla served “stolen Palestinian food” and that the menu was “cultural appropriation at it’s [sic] finest,” “reviews” claimed that it was “absolutely trash,” that food was “overpriced” and that it “steals the thoughts and the lands and serve you sh*t on a plate.”
One review wrote in capital letters: “DON’T GO THERE AND WASTE YOUR MONEY!!!”
There was also a TikTok video in which a woman claimed that Yalla was “falsely advertising Palestinian, Middle Eastern food” adding: “They messed with the wrong people.… Free Palestine.”
Within hours of the campaign, Yalla’s rating had dropped from 4.6 stars out of a maximum of five stars to 3.85. It then dipped to below 3 stars.
“In real life, if you get attacked, you call 911 and the police respond,” said Mr Goldberg. “But if you get attacked online, nothing, nothing, nothing happens.” He added that “a five-year-old” could look at the reviews and recognise they were fake, but “Google, a multibillion-dollar company can’t flag something like this as fake” was, he said, “just pretty astonishing.”
According to Mr Goldberg, since news of the cyber attack broke, he had had a lot of support “from Jews who felt they had to come out and fight hate.” People had been dropping into Yalla to show support which felt “amazing.” But, in the “long term” he did not think that there would be much impact. “Many people think Google reviews are mostly fake anyway,” he noted, “especially” if the reviews were anti-Israel. “They trust the old-fashioned way” – reviews from friends and family.”
Image credit: JNS via Google Images