Andy Shallal: Businessman, extremist, DC mayor?

Stephen Richer Law Student, University of Chicago
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If you follow any local food blogs – any at all – you know that Busboys & Poets restaurant owner Andy Shallal has tossed his hat in the ring for Washington, D.C. mayor. Shallal previously told us that, “If you don’t consider [the chance of me running] lightly, then you’re stupid.”

He paints himself as an underdog against the field of better-known, better-funded, established politicians also running. Though his chances of winning might be slim, any candidate with radical domestic political views who also thinks the United States gets its “marching orders from Tel Aviv” on foreign policy is a candidate who should be taken seriously, because he’s seriously scary.

The media’s portrait of Shallal so far has been rosy. He is a naturalized Iraqi-born American who combines his zest for art, social justice, and good food. Shallal owns four Busboys & Poets restaurants (he is soon opening a fifth) in addition to a dandified soul-food restaurant named Eatonville. Together, these restaurants employee hundreds of people. He serves on the board, as treasurer, of the Institute for Policy Studies, he hobnobbed with intellectuals like Howard Zinn, and he is an artist. By almost any definition of success, Shallal has succeeded.

Whether Washingtonians want this successful man as mayor is another question. On domestic policy, Shallal advances his progressive agenda in attention-grabbing ways: he was once arrested outside the White House while protesting an oil pipeline and he claims we are living in a “New Jim Crow [era]” with racial injustice just as bad as the 1960s. Shallal spurred on the “Occupy K Street” tent cities and his favorite politicians are Ralph Nader and Denis Kucinich. Concerning Wal-Mart’s potential opening in the district, Shallal said:

“It’s a company that thrives on really exploiting workers … all over the globe. They’ve sort of institutionalized the neocolonialism model of exploiting, abusing and then selling products at far lower prices than they should, in order for them to beat their competitors.”

But Shallal’s politics get way more extreme when he turns to foreign policy. The Israeli-Palestinian situation is a fixation for Shallal because he sees Israel as an oppressive state with a wanton disregard for human life. On June 10, 2007 he appeared as the keynote speaker at the “World Says No to the Israel Occupation” rally and stated, “With every [Israeli] plan Palestinians continue to be ethnically cleansed, humiliated, harassed, imprisoned, serially murdered, and assassinated . . . millions [of Palestinians] have been made into refugees . . . over 300,000 Palestinians have been killed directly as a result of the occupation.” (Time on video:  2:20 to 3:00)

Setting aside the inaccurate nature of Shallal’s statistics, you might think that he would more actively encourage President Obama to intervene in this alleged genocide. But that wouldn’t be very useful because, in Shallal’s mind, “The U.S. and its allies sit on the side, getting [their] marching orders from Tel Aviv.” (Video:  3:28) Of course, Shallal’s allegations then get a little muddled when he implies that the United States is an equal partner in this Zionist plot:

“This is a plan to create to a new American-Israeli century, and those who dare to speak out will be squashed, a century where the military will continue to call the shots, and where Israel, America’s largest arms depot, will continue to control and terrorize the region.” (Video: 3:37)

It’s not surprising then that Shallal doesn’t think very highly of the United States Armed Forces.  In this interview he claims that U.S. troops shirk their orders to protect Iraqis and instead settle on looting the country. And in this article, Shallal writes that American troops are so brazenly immoral and disrespectful of Iraq that “US military commanders] refuse even to count the number of civilians killed or injured by their soldiers.” As a further expression of these views, Shallal signed a letter that sympathized with the protester who threw a shoe at President Bush, arguing instead that President Bush should be in jail.

Shallal is also happy to help anyone who is willing to more directly attack the supposed U.S.-Israeli reign of terror. In May, 2011, Shalla’s Busboys & Poets held a memorial for Furkan Dogan, a Turkish American who died while attempting to stab an Israel Defense Forces soldier during the Mavi Marmara incident. And the restaurant has held at least two fundraisers for the Turkish flotillas that impermissibly entered Israeli waters and led to conflict and death. The flotillas were strongly denounced by U.S. government officials.

Perhaps Shallal thinks we shouldn’t take his candidacy too seriously yet. But I think his views merit a serious – and quick – denunciation. Here’s a good one: DC will not elect an extremist who plays loose with facts and implies that the United States is led by immoral generals who are part of a murderous cabal controlled by Israel.