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Media Allows Unproven Accusations Against Defend Boyle Heights to Pass Without Question

Of course it was Fox News.

Despite having no proof, media coverage of a July 12th protest organized by anti-gentrification group Defend Boyle Heights, repeats claims of anti-Semitism and feces throwing.

Protesters outside Asher Caffe in Boyle Heights on Aug. 8

Several weeks ago, a group of protesters gathered outside the grand-opening ceremony of Asher Caffe in Boyle Heights. Organized by anti-gentrification group Defend Boyle Heights, the demonstrators were protesting what they saw as an imposition of outside money which would spur real-estate speculation and other the developments that would ultimately harm the mostly Latino, working class community.

Following the protest, the café’s owner and his children, spoke with a number of media outlets claiming that the protesters had used “anti-Semitic slurs” and had thrown “a significant amount of feces at our windows.” They did not however, offer any evidence and the protesters vehemently deny these accusations.

But while no proof was offered for or against the accusation, Fox & Friends and similar other right-wing media repeated the claim without question. (One publication, Matzav.com, went so far as to begin their coverage of the incident with “Go Home Jews” in quotation, though they give no attribution.)

Café owner Asher Shalom and his son David appeared on Fox & Friends in the days following the protest where they told host Brian Kilmeade that the protesters had used anti-Semitic slurs. Critically, this accusation didn’t make it into the local CBS coverage out of Los Angeles. It’s not known whether or not the owners made this claim to CBS, but the segment makes no mention of anti-Semitism.

Cafe owner Asher Shalom and son David on Fox & Friends

CBS’s coverage of the protest does however show Shalom’s daughter Yael making the claim that protesters threw “a significant amount of feces at our windows,” but fails to note that statement is an unproven accusation.

Indeed, the absence of proof doesn’t mean something didn’t happen, but it’s the media’s responsibility to treat each side fairly and view all statements with a healthy degree of skepticism.

Media often refer to those who have been arrested but not yet convicted of a crime as “suspects” or “the alleged,” even when that person has admitted to the crimes. Case in point, Parkland shooting “suspect” Nikolas Cruz. Cruz was identified by victims and has admitted to the shooting, but is still referred to as a “suspect” here, here, and here.

This practice follows from the legal tradition which says everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Yet the words “claim,” “allegation,” or other such words indicating the unproven are conspicuously absent from any media coverage of the protest.

While this is unsurprising from blatantly partisan and unscrupulous media like Fox News, the local CBS station, a supposedly neutral outlet, neglected to stress the fact that the accusation of feces throwing, is an unproven claim, and seemed to take for granted the word of the café’s owners. The reporter did note that the protesters refused, strongly, to speak with CBS.

The demonstrators posted to their Facebook page a full two hour video of the protest during which no anti-Semitic slurs are heard and no feces is seen thrown. The owners of Asher Caffe provided no video of anti-Semitic chants nor any photos of feces smeared windows. Police were called to the protest and stood between the protesters and the café, but no arrests were made.

Defend Boyle Heights’ Facebook post calling for July 12th protest.

To be clear, none of this proves anything. But that’s exactly the point. Despite any proof, for or against the claims of Asher Caffe’s owners, CBS news failed to highlight the lack of proof and stress the fact these statements were only accusations from one aggrieved party to another.

Some Defend Boyle Heights protesters do have a very aggressive style of protest, getting in people’s faces and shouting obscenities. But screaming “fuck you” into someone’s face is not anti-Semitic.

DBH has been accused before of vandalism, similarly with no proof. An article on CBS’s website covering the July 12th protest notes that DBH was accused of vandalizing a coffee shop elsewhere in Boyle Heights, but the coverage of that incident makes no mention of Defend Boyle Heights.

In another incident, “Fuck White Art” was spray-painted across the side of an art gallery and DBH was thought to be the perpetrator, again with no proof. DBH responded in a statement, “We don’t know who tagged up these galleries, but we certainly don’t condemn it.”

Defend Boyle Heights held a second protest on August 8th, this time to push back against the charges of anti-Semitism as well as gentrification. Billed as “Jewish Solidarity for Boyle Heights,” DBH was joined by the Los Angeles chapter of Jewish Voices for Peace and several self-identified Jewish protesters.

Leonardo Vilchis of Defend Boyle Heights

Leonardo Vilchis, a member of Defend Boyle Heights, was there: “We’re here denouncing the fact that the owner has accused us of being anti-Semitic and putting out there that we’re a racist community that is attacking him because of his ancestry,” he said.

“The reality is a few weeks ago we were here protesting one more gentrifying business in our community and also the sarcasm and the racism that he has made on Instagram and other places.”

Shalom is avowed Trump supporter and several weeks ago retweeted a post that said, “we bring people from shithole countries because shithole Democrats need shithole votes so they can turn America into a shithole,” in addition to other pro-Trump tweets. (The retweeting of this statement was not shown during the CBS coverage, but the less vulgar, “I wish Democrats would fight as hard for America as they do for illegals,” was.)

Screenshots from Asher Shalom’s social media.

When notified of these posts, the Boyle Heights Chamber of Commerce revoked Shalom’s membership and said that they would no longer be joining him at his grand-opening ceremony. In the days following the protests outside the café, members of the Shalom family made the anti-Semitism and feces claims to CBS and Fox & Friends.

During the follow-up protest, Asher Shalom gave a more subdued tone. “I was wrong, and I apologize,” he said. “I retweeted something from Trump, it was related to immigrant[s]. I shouldn’t do that…I myself am an immigrant.” Shalom went on to say that most of his employees are immigrants and “my relationship with them is like my children.”

“But I am pro-Trump,” he said, “I’m in textiles. In the last 30 years, 95% of the companies, they closed, they went to China. I’m fighting for everything “made in USA,” I love “made in USA.” He said that Trump’s policies have helped his business which in turn, helps his immigrant employees. “[Trump] really cares because if I close, they don’t have any place to work,” he said.

When asked about gentrification, he said that it was lamentable, but inevitable. “I see their pain. I really understand their pain,” he said. “We have in Israel the same problem. Young people, they cannot buy the house because the price is going up, but I cannot help, and they cannot help.”

He said that going forward he wants to work with the community, “I want to be part of the community and I don’t want to be excluded [because] we have something expensive,” he said, adding that he offers discounts to people in the community and pointed to his philanthropic works.

About a dozen police officers were present for the Aug 8th protest.

The protesters were unmoved.

“The fact that you may hire a few people here doesn’t discount the fact that hundreds, thousands of people are at risk because of the economic changes in Boyle Heights,” DBH member Vilchis said. “The fact that you’re giving discounts doesn’t change the fact that rents are going up whether you’re in rent control or not rent control.”

Another protester, Shmuel Gonzales, echoed the sentiment voiced by several of his fellow demonstrators, that the accusations of anti-Semitism were being used as a tool to garner more sympathy. “Some of the claims of anti-Semitism are just exaggeration,” he said. “Because it is uncomfortable when people are shouting at you, when people are yelling at you. However, we need to be very clear about what perceived anti-Semitism is and what actual anti-Semitism is. It would be very unfortunate to try and tie this community into having some kind of anti-Semitic impetus that’s behind this kind of protest.”

The two major media outlets which covered the incident, CBS and Fox News, both portrayed the protesters as having been moved to action by Asher Shalom’s pro-Trump tweets and political stance. Fox News and other right-wing media sought to show the Shaloms as being persecuted for their political beliefs.

Defend Boyle Heights is an anti-gentrification coalition and targeted Asher Caffe primarily for that reason. For DBH, the discovery of Shalom’s pro-Trump tweets was an additional strike against him and his business, not the reason for their initial opposition. However the tweets were the stated reason why the Boyle Heights Chamber of Commerce revoked Shalom’s membership.