‘No Zionists allowed’ at new SLC bar, says owner Michael Valentine, former mayoral candidate

An Instagram post about the Weathered Waves bar is being decried as antisemitic and alcohol officials have asked the Utah Attorney General’s Office to review it.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Weathered Waves bar in Salt Lake City, Wednesday, March 6, 2024.

Four days after the new Weathered Waves bar received its license to serve its hard ciders in its space at The Gateway mall in Salt Lake City, a post on its Instagram account announced, “NO ZIONISTS ALLOWED.”

The Monday post said: “We are a business, but we are also human. We don’t make and sell cider for robots. … We are horrified by the ongoing genocide in Gaza and are even more horrified to see so many Americans ignore and rationalize ethnic cleansing. That is why we are pleased to announce we are banning all Zionists forever from our establishments.”

[Update: Salt Lake City bar’s ‘No Zionists’ policy prompts dozens of complaints to Utah liquor agency]

Weathered Waves, 158 S. Rio Grande St., is part of the Six Sailor Cider group, and specializes in locally brewed hard ciders. Six Sailor Cider is owned by Michael Valentine, an advocate and small-business owner who unsuccessfully ran for Salt Lake City mayor last year as a first-time candidate.

On Wednesday, the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Services notified the state Attorney General’s office about the post, “so they may conduct an investigation on whether the business is violating discrimination laws,” said agency spokesperson Michelle Schmitt.

The agency has received “several comments from members of the public” about the postings on Weathered Waves’ Instagram account, Schmitt said, and “we take these concerns seriously.”

It also “is reviewing its statutory obligations and legal options for responding to discrimination at DABS licensed establishments. … Safety is always the department’s top priority for everyone who interacts with licensed establishments, including patrons, employees, and owners,” Schmitt said.

The department’s commission awarded Weathered Waves its bar license on Feb. 29 and it opened March 1. In an interview Wednesday, Valentine said he wrote the Monday post and doesn’t see it as antisemitic.

He emphasized that he opposes all hate speech and said he has received “thousands” of messages on voicemail and social media, including some with threats. He said he reported a threat to burn the bar down to Salt Lake City police.

He said he clarified his stance in a follow-up post. “We didn’t just ban Zionism, we banned all hate speech,” he said. “We banned neo-Nazis, we banned transphobes, we banned sexists, we banned homophobes — any and all hate speech.”

‘Who is and who is not a Zionist?’

Valentine’s post said “Zionism is hate speech” and “white supremacy, and has nothing to do with the beautiful Jewish faith.”

It does not say how the bar will distinguish between Jews and Zionists, and he did not comment on that issue.

(Jose Davila IV | The Salt Lake Tribune) Weathered Waves in Salt Lake City, Wednesday, March 6, 2024.

Yalla Kosher Utah, which describes itself as Utah’s first Kosher food truck, responded with its own post, saying: “Some people see food as a way to divide. That’s not us. At all.”

Rabbi Avremi Zippel of Chabad Lubavitch of Utah, one of the food truck’s owners, repeated a point he said has been widely made on social media in response to Valentine’s post.

“When someone comes into your place of business to order food or beverage, how are you able to ascertain what their political ideologies are?” he asked. “Zionism is a political ideology. It’s a philosophy. How exactly is a place of business supposed to determine who is and who is not a Zionist?”

His own conclusion, Zippel said, is that “the emptiness of the policy and the inability to enforce that policy without openly discriminating against the religion shows what the real motivation behind that is.”

Commenters on the Weathered Waves post accused the bar, the cider company and Valentine of being antisemitic. One commenter wondered if the bar would “ask for someone’s Zionist papers” at the door. The cider company and bar also have been “review bombed” on platforms that include Facebook and Google Reviews.

In his post, Valentine accuses Israel of “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing.” His post does not mention the Hamas-led attacks on Oct. 7 that left about 1,200 Israelis dead and about 240 taken hostage. More than 100 were released in November during a weeklong cease-fire, The Associated Press reported.

After the attack, Israel invaded Gaza and launched airstrikes, a response that leveled neighborhoods in the territory of about 2.3 million people. The latest conflict has become the deadliest of five Israel-Hamas wars for both sides, with the Gaza Health Ministry reporting Wednesday that the Palestinian death toll had reached 30,717.

In north Gaza, one in six children younger than 2 years old suffers from acute malnutrition, according to UNICEF screenings in January, the United Nations has said. The U.N. in a new report Monday also said there are “reasonable grounds to believe” that the Hamas attack in October included rape and gang rape committed against Israeli citizens.

“This is not about that”

Valentine said he is not concerned about any action the state alcohol officials might take. “It is not antisemitic to say we are anti-genocide,” Valentine said. “That’s what we’re saying. … I literally say in the post I’m not banning Jews. This is not about that.”

He said he has received messages of support from Jews who oppose Zionism. “These are Jewish people. Are you saying they’re antisemitic?”

Valentine repeatedly pointed to a 1975 United Nations resolution that declared that Zionism “is a form of racism and racial discrimination.” That resolution was revoked in 1991.

And he insisted, “My establishments are very inclusive. I have trans flags here. I have Palestinian flags here. I’m against hate speech of all kinds — against trans people, against queer people, against Palestinians, against Jews.”

Over the past several formal Salt Lake City Council meetings, there have been intense and lengthy public comment from activists — including Valentine — pressuring the council to call for a cease-fire in the latest Israel-Hamas war.

Since the council instead adopted a resolution in support of peace, campaigning and disruption continued, leading to the council’s Tuesday decision to fast-track new restrictions on public input.

Zippel said that context is important to evaluating Valentine’s post.

“I don’t think it’s fair to view what happened with the social media posts … in a vacuum, “ he said. “This is followed a very specific pattern of behavior since February 20,” the date the council passed the resolution.

”From that day,” he said, the cider company’s owner “has not exactly made a secret of his disdain.”

The hospitality industry, Zippel said, “has a unique gift and ability to bring people together,” and at the food truck, the clientele “has not changed remotely. We had Arab customers, Muslim customers, Palestinian customers. ... We’ve had fascinating and robust and interesting conversations with our customers outside our truck pre-October 7 and post-October 7.”

He added: “The fact that they’ve decided to honor us with their business does not remotely mean that we agree on any and every issue, certainly, certainly not large geopolitical ones.

“But that’s the beauty of food and of running, owning and maintaining a small business that has the ability to bring people together, regardless of what their political ideologies are.”