East Bay coffee shop faces controversy after anti-Zionist graffiti, employees fired

An interior view of Farley’s East coffee shop in Oakland, Calif. 

An interior view of Farley’s East coffee shop in Oakland, Calif. 

Image via Yelp user Vincent L.

A Bay Area coffee shop and its owners are facing controversy after a viral social media video showed anti-Zionist graffiti in the shop’s restroom.

The video, shot by a customer Dec. 3 at Farley’s East on Grand Avenue in Oakland, showed three employees preventing the customer from entering the shop’s restroom. After the woman was eventually allowed to enter, she filmed graffiti on the mirror that read “zionism = fascism.” Zionism refers to the movement to establish and protect the state of Israel.

In a statement to SFGATE on Tuesday, Chris and Amy Hillyard, Farley’s East’s owners, said the graffiti has been cleaned and all three employees in the video were fired. Though they called the dismissals a “personnel matter,” in a separate social media post dated Dec. 8 and published Saturday morning, the owners called the situation “shocking and unacceptable.” 


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“Events like these strike fear in the Jewish community and perpetuate the rise of anti-Semitism in our community and around the world,” the Hillyards wrote. “We do not tolerate any behavior at Farley’s that makes people feel unwelcome or unsafe.”

In the same statement, the Hillyards said the interaction between the employees and the unidentified customer, whom they identified as Jewish, escalated from a “civil dialogue.” But while employees are entitled to their opinions, “they are not entitled to express themselves on the job in ways that are disrespectful and hurtful to anyone,” the owners wrote. 

But in a letter published Sunday, a group of former and current employees claim Chris Hillyard had known about the graffiti for two months. They further allege that even after a second customer complained about it, it was left there, and it was only cleared off after the Dec. 3 video went viral and the Farley’s Yelp page received bad reviews. SFGATE asked for clarification about how long the graffiti was in the restroom and if the Hillyards were aware of it but did not receive an answer.

The employees also deny in the letter that the customer was singled out because of her faith.“The narrative is that they denied her entry because she is a Jewish woman,” the letter said. “That is a lie.” 


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In an interview with SFGATE on Wednesday, Jesse Turner, one of the fired employees seen in the video, said the interaction in front of the restroom came after a “long debate” not captured in the clip between employees and the customer regarding the Israel-Hamas war. He said the woman had already been in the restroom, and they’d asked her to leave after causing a disturbance. 

“It was due to the disruption that was caused and being previously asked to leave,” Turner said. “And due to our perception of the scenario that the only reason she wanted inside was to cause more of a disturbance.”

He also said he believes the bathroom graffiti was not antisemitic. “We are challenging firmly the notion that anti-Zionism and anti-Israel critique is antisemitism,” he said.

The shop owners will not be doing interviews or answering questions beyond their statement at this time and will be focusing on family, Juliana Bunim, a spokesperson for the Hillyards, told SFGATE. Farley’s East will be closed through the holidays, and employees will continue to be paid for that period, Bunim said. As of Tuesday, the owners’ printed social media statement was taped to the front door.


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Turner, who had worked at the shop for more than six years, said he had a close working relationship with the owners and was shocked he and the other two employees were fired so quickly.

“I know that they told me [it was] specifically for my actions on Dec. 3,” he said. “In the same conversation they said, ‘We know that you weren’t being antisemitic, we know you weren’t being hateful.’ They just kept saying it’s a tough situation all around.”

Turner said after the three employees were fired, four more resigned. The former and current employees have since created a social media page after the events and called for community members to boycott Farley’s East. 


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