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Morning Spew

How an Upper East Side Coffee Shop Became a Proxy for the War Between Israel and Hamas

The former baristas of Caffe Aronne tell their side of the story. And some links for your Thursday.

(Hell Gate)

Earlier this month, the Upper East Side coffeeshop Caffe Aronne became the latest proxy fight in the war between Israel and Hamas. Last Tuesday, according to the cafe's owner Aaron Dahan, two of his baristas came to the job wearing "Free Palestine" pins, in opposition of Dahan's support for Israel's war with Hamas—and then quit in protest, leaving him in the lurch. 

Dahan's cousin and his cousin's girlfriend were killed by Hamas fighters in Israel on October 7. Soon after, he put up an Israeli flag, as well as fundraising posters for both Magen David Adom, the Israeli Red Cross, and later, the now-ubiquitous "KIDNAPPED" posters featuring hostages, in his cafe. His staff, he told the New York Post, "was not for it." 

"Our staff was young. They think they know everything, liberal, college-educated,” the 25-year-old Dahan said. According to Dahan, five of his employees had left since the start of the war. "They think we're supporting genocide, we're supporting colonialism. They know the keywords but they don't really know what they mean."

In a subsequent op-ed he wrote for the Post titled "All of NYC helped when my pro-Hamas staff quit Caffe Aronne," Dahan doubled down on the narrative that his employees left due to his politics. "All of my employees quit this week, not overpaying [sic] or benefits, but over our store's support of Israel," he wrote. 

"There is no genocide—Gaza's population has tripled since then and Israel is a democracy. There is no apartheid," he continued. "However, for many, it's easier to ignorantly throw around buzzwords like apartheid, colonizer, or genocide. And my employees are all smart and college-educated. That tactic is an insult to their own intelligence."

All this attention and publicity has been good for Dahan's cafe—after people began posting online that his workers had quit in protest, droves of people came out in support of him and Caffe Aronne, and according to Dahan, his suppliers have sent him free coffee beans as a show of support. 

But four of Dahan's former baristas tell a different, more nuanced story of why they left. In interviews with Hell Gate, they shared that the cafe's very public support for Israel in its war with Hamas had created a work environment they felt was unsafe, one in which customers would argue with them about the war. When those concerns were brought up with Dahan, they said, they were ignored. 

One barista, who was working alone at the time, recalled a conversation with a customer that became so heated that he refused to leave the cafe. In other instances, pro-Palestine customers would assume that they were the one who had put up the posters, and would try to start arguments with them. "I don't walk into work every day prepped to have, you know, a debate about an enormous war that's going on. I come in to make coffee," they said. 

All the former staff that Hell Gate spoke with freely admitted that they were not politically aligned with Dahan, but stressed that their main issue was his lack of concern over creating a safe work environment. (They asked that they not be named to avoid potential harassment.) When the manager of the coffeeshop brought up those staff concerns with Dahan, and proposed that the cafe could perhaps instead encourage people to donate to the International Committee of the Red Cross, they said he brushed her off. 

As one former barista said, "This is something that has impacted him deeply. But he is not the one behind the counter. And this is an extremely politically charged situation. We voiced our concerns about being put in that situation. And it felt like we were ignored."

On the Tuesday that set off this chain of events, one of the baristas decided to wear a pin of the Palestinian flag. "I just figured that that was the best way for me to show people who are coming in and being upset with us because we aren't pro-Palestine, that my beliefs don't align with the cafe's, but also to discourage the conversations that people were trying to have with me about it." They gave one of the pins to another barista who was working that day. "We just wore the pin quietly, we didn't engage in any conversation," they said.  

But wearing a pin of the Palestine flag seems like it would invite conversations rather than discourage them, and that's exactly what happened. Shortly after, a customer took a photo of them wearing the pins, and that photo made its way to Dahan, who, according to the manager, called them: "He said something along the lines of, 'Between you and me, I want everybody out, because of the quote, unquote, protests,' and because of them disagreeing with having the Israeli flags and the flyers and stuff." That manager then called one of the baristas working that day, telling them that Dahan wanted to fire them. "I said, He's, like, actively threatening to fire me now? And she said, Yes. And I said, Okay, then I'm gonna quit," that barista recalled. They had already been considering leaving; this was the final straw, they said. The other barista working that day decided to quit that evening, hours after their shift was over. While the public may have gotten the impression that all of Dahan's staff walked out en masse, mid-shift, the workers say that only one person quit this way.

Dahan disputes the accounts of his former staff. "None of that happened," he told Hell Gate of the conversations around firing them. As for whether he brushed off concerns about safety, he said he took them seriously. "One of the team members came to me and said, 'You know, it's put me in a situation where people come and they want to talk politics,'" Dahan said. "As a response, we put a sign that said, the views of the staff could and may differ from the views of owners. So please do not engage in political discourse."

He added, "And I think that what will maybe disprove this idea of the staff, is that if the concern was safety, and the concern was, you know, all these things they're mentioning, I don't know why everybody [was] coming into work, opening the cash registers and saying, I quit, and leaving in the middle all at once. It seems a little bit more like a protest to me, saying, we're going to step away, we're going to open your door, we're going to unlock it, we're going to leave." 

Dahan's former employees are most upset about the media narrative that Dahan is pushing about them, and are worried that potential employers might be hesitant to hire them once they see Caffe Aronne on their resumes. "People are calling us antisemitic, people are calling us, you know, stupid kids who don't know anything," one said, adding, "I don't want to tell people I used to work at Caffe Aronne, and they immediately think, 'Oh, is she one of the antisemitic people who quit because she hates Jewish people.' Because that is the narrative that's being pushed. Unfortunately, what's not being pushed is that we tried to have a genuine conversation with our boss about feeling uncomfortable and unsafe in the workplace." 

"The way we have been written about, it seems like we all just threw a tantrum and decided to leave, when that is not the case," another former barista noted. They added, "if he really thought of us as family, as he was saying, like, he wouldn't be having these interviews every single day, and having all this publicity." 

—Esther Wang

And some links that create a safe work environment:

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