TV personality, interior designer files defamation lawsuit, says Kimberly Hawkins cannot be allowed to harm his professional reputation
Kimberly Hawkins, owner of the Toronto-based restaurant Foodbenders, has until July 30 to respond to her latest legal woe: defamation.
Plaintiff Shai DeLuca, a Canadian with Israeli citizenship and an interior designer on Cityline, North America’s longest-running lifestyle television show, sued Hawkins for 800,000 Canadian dollars after she claimed on her restaurant’s Instagram account that he was an Israeli army “terrorist” who has “a sniper rifle aimed at Palestinian children.”
Hawkins’s actions are part of a surge in anti-Semitism across Canada and much of the rest of the world.
One of her posts appears to contain a screenshot of DeLuca’s Instagram.
“What she was trying to do was to harm me professionally, and I couldn’t let that happen,” he told The Media Line.
“Here in Canada and in the diaspora, Jews traditionally tend to hope it will just go away because they don’t actually want to make a bigger deal than they need to…. A lot of them [are] hurt professionally any time they… speak up about anti-Semitism,” he said.
Here in Canada and in the diaspora, Jews traditionally tend to hope it will just go away because they don’t actually want to make a bigger deal than they need to…. A lot of them [are] hurt professionally any time they… speak up about anti-Semitism
“That hurt me a lot because I saw the way that the community was suffering,” he stated, “and then, because of this personal [attack], I thought: ‘I’m going to be the voice.’”
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of DeLuca on July 10 by The Lawfare Project, an organization that defends Jews in anti-Semitism cases, and the Toronto-based RE-LAW LLP law firm.
“Our client is a proud Jew and Zionist. He cannot, and will not, sit idly by while his reputation is being smeared by false, defamatory and very public statements,” RE-LAW LLP partner David Elmaleh said in a news release.
He told The Media Line: “RE-LAW LLP is proud to be lawyers of record, and together with The Lawfare Project, [to] represent Mr. DeLuca in this very important case.”
Lawfare Project executive director Brooke Goldstein told The Media Line that her group fights “the rising tide of anti-Semitism across the globe,” whether it is “discrimination masquerading as political activism” or violence.
“The Foodbenders case perfectly illustrates how overt displays of anti-Semitism can creep into public spaces if we don’t call them out and fight back,” she said. “We decided we could not stand by while a restaurant owner used her platforms, including public social-media accounts and even signage outside her store, to disparage Jews and violate our client’s civil rights.”
Hawkins’s remarks about DeLuca came after she posted anti-Semitic diatribes on her internet platforms and at her restaurant, including “#zionistsnotwelcome” on the eatery’s Instagram page.
The latter action spurred the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs in Canada to file a claim before the Canadian Human Rights Commission for violating hate-speech laws. Unlike the United States, Canada has strict laws governing hate speech.
“Here and in most of the world, people understand that when you say ‘Zionists are not welcome,’ what you’re saying is ‘Jews are not welcome,’” DeLuca stated.
Here and in most of the world, people understand that when you say ‘Zionists are not welcome,’ what you’re saying is ‘Jews are not welcome
The Media Line made several attempts to contact Hawkins, who did not respond.
However, in a statement on Foodbenders’ website, she wrote: “There were… important, genuine criticisms made about statements and language I used in the Foodbenders’ social-media posts…. In particular, the statement asserting that the [Jewish Defense League] and Zionist journalists were controlling the media was a well-known anti-Semitic trope – that Jewish people control the media. I want to apologize that this post was poorly worded and insensitive.”
Hawkins also noted the controversy over her hashtag.
“I want to conclude by addressing those offended by the use of the hashtag ‘Zionistsnotwelcome’ in an Instagram post,” she wrote on the web site. “While I am opposed to the political ideology of Zionism, I want to make it clear the hashtag in the post was not intended in the literal sense…. I absolutely did not intend it to mean that Jewish or Zionist people are not allowed to enter my store.”
The statement was signed: “FREE PALESTINE.”
The DeLuca lawsuit and the claim before the Human Rights Commission have reverberated across Canada and the US.
“It is the first step to breaking free of the silence that so many in the Jewish community have had to endure when it comes to anti-Semitism, and bringing it to the forefront,” DeLuca said.
“It became such a big deal that the prime minister of Canada; the premier, which is like a governor, of Ontario; and the mayor of Toronto issued public statements about her and what she was doing,” he added.
A Canadian-Jewish organization said the show of support by government leaders was a hopeful sign.
“We’re encouraged that politicians across party lines stood up against Foodbenders’ divisive promotion of anti-Semitism and discrimination,” a B’nai Brith Canada spokesperson told The Media Line.
Uber Eats and DoorDash, two food-delivery companies that had been affiliated with Foodbenders, severed ties with the restaurant.
B’nai Brith Canada says there are more steps the government can take.
“We hope the city [Toronto] completes its investigation of the bylaw infraction soon and takes whatever measures necessary to enforce its policies,” the spokesperson said.
Section 27 of Toronto’s By-law No. 574-2000 bans licensed businesses from “discriminat[ing] against any member of the public” on grounds of “race, color or creed.”
In a news release earlier this month, B’nai Brith Canada urged people to contact the city at email@example.com to ask that it reconsider the granting of Foodbenders a business license because of the by-law violation.
“It’s the online world that generates the most rapidly disseminated and digested form of anti-Semitic ideas today and contributes to much of the spread in terms of anti-Semitic sentiment,” Ran Ukashi, B’nai Brith Canada’s League for Human Rights director, told The Media Line, “regardless of the form of anti-Semitism being expressed, be it right-wing, left-wing, religious, racial or any other form of anti-Semitism.”
In Canada, there has been a “marked increase” in anti-Semitic bullying among children, both face-to-face and over the internet, he added.