LONDON (JR) — The Pink Peacock, a Yiddish-speaking and queer-friendly cafe in Glasgow, closed its doors on Wednesday, as its owners said they had received an “astonishing amount of antisemitic vitriol” during its three years of operation from other “self-described leftists.”
The cafe said in a statement published on its website that members of its collective, who work as volunteers at the café, were suffering from “burnout” due to the stresses of “struggling under capitalism and kyriarchy,” the “ongoing pandemic” and the “constant battle to keep ourselves financially afloat.”
Co-owners Morgan Holleb and Joe Isaac alleged that they had suffered from “harassment” from the Socialist Workers Party, a small Trotskyite political party in the United Kingdom, and others. They added that several members of the collective had already or were planning to move away due to “the Jewish isolation, unchecked antisemitism in Scotland, and the impact of this harassment.”
“On top of the expected right-wing backlash from terfs [trans-exclusionary radical feminists] and bootlickers, we have received a frankly astonishing amount of antisemitic vitriol over the last three years from self-described leftists who have doxxed us, harassed us online and off, and spread rumours about us being ‘landlord’ ‘bosses’ ‘profiting off the holocaust,’” the statement read.
The cafe had operated on a “pay-as-you-can” basis, which invited customers to pay a price for the goods that they consumed if they were able, but which also allowed them to eat for free. Financial filings from May 2022 showed that the Pink Peacock owed creditors £12,000 (over $15,000), but had only £5,764 (over $7,300) on hand.
While the number of antisemitic incidents reported in Scotland remains low by national standards, recorded cases have crept up in recent years, according to the Community Security Trust, an organization which provides security to the British Jewish community and has been tracking antisemitism in Britain since the early 1980s. In 2022, the CST recorded 34 antisemitic incidents in Scotland, up from 30 in 2020.
Holleb and Isaac told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency upon opening in 2020 that they aimed to create “a Jewish space where you can be loudly queer” and “a space for Yiddish learning.” They also aimed to resurrect the Scots-Yiddish dialect that developed among the Eastern European Jewish immigrants in Glasgow in the late 19th century.
The cafe had courted controversy among neighbors and it came to national attention in Scotland multiple times for its activism. In June 2021, Scottish police charged Holleb with disturbing the peace following a complaint that the cafe was displaying a tote bag that read “F**k the Police” in both English and Yiddish. The bag later sold out.
In September of that year, the Pink Peacock began selling handcuff keys ahead of planned protest at the United Nations’ COP26 Summit in Glasgow, a move that was met with criticism. Scottish police said that anybody found using a handcuff key while under arrest would “likely be charged with resisting, obstructing, or hindering” a police officer, in addition to the offense for which they had been arrested.
While many Jews once lived in Govanhill, the cafe’s neighborhood known for its immigrant populations, very few remain. Scotland’s Jewish community, estimated at under 5,000, is largely based elsewhere in Glasgow. Organized institutions had a testy relationship with the Pink Peacock, which sought to present itself as a more open and welcoming space relative to Scotland’s often conservative institutions.
One member of the local Jewish community told JR that while some Jews with an “ideological connection” may have frequented the cafe, it was unlikely that many others from the community ever did.
The Pink Peacock did not reply to a request for comment on this article. In 2020, Holleb and Isaac told JR that they saw their relationship with the mainstream Jewish community in Glasgow as “mixed.”
Paul Edlin, a former president of the Glasgow Jewish Representative Council and a Conservative Party councillor, told JR he was “delighted” that the Pink Peacock had shut down. He claimed that “all they ever did was create embarrassment and trouble for the community” and qualified the relationship between the café and the mainstream Jewish community in Glasgow as “negative.”
“If they had been mainstream, in any way embracing Jewish values, the community would have been delighted to embrace them,” Edlin said. “They are against everything that most people see as normal,” he said, pointing to the café’s anti-Zionism and anti-police stances.
“Good riddance to bad rubbish,” he added.
Edlin claimed that members of the Pink Peacock collective had once tried to attend services at Garnethill, an Orthodox synagogue in central Glasgow, but had to be “removed” after a squabble with congregational leadership.
The cafe published various records about the demographics of the collective in what it described as an effort “to be accountable to our communities.” A “diversity monitoring” sheet indicated that there were 29 members at their last headcount, but only two indicated that they spoke Yiddish. Only five members self-identified as Jewish.