Jeremy Sasson said he got a call from the Detroit health department from people calling in complaints of health violations.
After several days of watching his social media newsfeeds fill up with antisemitic and anti-Israel posts after the latest round of conflict between Israel and Hamas, Detroit-area restaurateur Jeremy Sasson took a pro-Israel stand on Facebook.
On Friday, May 14, he commented that Israel had the right to exist in peace. He also created a post with an Israeli flag captioned with the words “Am Yisrael Chai — the Jewish people live.”
The next morning, Sasson said his Facebook direct message inbox “exploded” with hundreds of hateful antisemitic messages. Then, he said, about 5,000 1-star reviews appeared on Yelp and Google about one of his restaurants, Townhouse Detroit, that alleged, among other things, that there were rats running around in the dining room and the chef had stuffed an Israeli flag into a patron’s steak.
The ironic thing — The Townhouse Detroit has been closed for months for renovations.
Sasson also owns Townhouse in Birmingham and Prime + Proper in Detroit, as well as a California-inspired project to open by the end of 2021.
“I ended up with 500 direct message requests with messages calling me a Zionist pig and that I was killing women and children,” said Sasson, who has family in Israel. “They threatened to kill my children and burn down my restaurant. In my 36 years, I have known there are people who are antisemitic, but I have never seen it at this scale.”
Sasson said he got a call from the Detroit health department from people calling in complaints of health violations.
“They thought it was odd to get so many health complaints about my restaurant because the city knows I was closed,” Sasson said. “However, as procedure, the health department had to call me to let me know that a formal complaint about rats is now on my restaurant’s record. Now, I must go through the process to expunge that. But it just goes to show you the aggression in today’s culture that [anti-Israel activists] have put out.
“Then you see all the videos of violent acts transpiring in New York and Los Angeles by Palestinian activists going after Jews sitting outside in restaurants. You see who is the real aggressor. It’s not like there’s anybody in the Jewish community walking around looking to go after Palestinians.”
Yelp and Google have shut down the review comment sections for the restaurant and the incident is being investigated by the Detroit and Michigan State Police departments. Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Michigan Regional Director Carolyn Normandin said the organization has had conversations with the office of Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel to classify this as a possible hate crime, though formal complaints have yet to be filed to the AG office by the ADL on Sasson’s behalf.
“There are serious legal concerns I have about this incident,” said Normandin, who could not comment further on the issue.
Still, Sasson is hopeful and excited for this summer’s reopening of Townhouse Detroit and welcomes people of all backgrounds and viewpoints to be his patrons. He is taking no threats lightly and will do everything he can to protect the jobs of his workers and the well-being of his guests, he said.
“I’m in the hospitality business, and it’s my job to take care of people and make them feel good at any and all costs,” Sasson said. “I do this regardless of how someone feels about my faith or how they feel about a country where I have family.
“I am ever more grateful for those who dine in my restaurants because I know these people carry no hatred in their hearts.”