At the last Queens Night Market of the season on October 28, a Palestinian food vendor posted an Instagram video of the festival’s team removing her sign that read, “Your tax dollars are funding the genocide of Palestinians, end the occupation, free Palestine.” Over the weekend, the post has been flooded with comments of support, calling on the market to make amends.
Tala, who asked her last name to be withheld for privacy reasons, is the owner of the olive company Baba’s Olives, and has participated in the market for the past three seasons with a booth called Taste of Palestine. She posted the video after members of the festival’s team removed the signage, which Queens Night Market founder John Wang said was because they had allegedly received complaints from multiple visitors about its content.
“Our goal with Queens Night Market is to create a joyous, comfortable, casual, and family-friendly event for everyone,” Wang said in a statement to Eater.
In a follow-up interview, Wang did not specify the exact complaints made by customers, but he did indicate that stirring conflict in a crowd of the market’s thousands of attendees was a concern.
“In pursuit of our mission, safety is the top priority at the Queens Night Market. And we take it very, very seriously when visitors bring to our attention something that makes them feel uncomfortable or unsafe. Our action was intended to de-escalate and ensure physical safety,” said Wang in a statement, later adding that while he believed the signage, with illustrated blood, was not appropriate for the “family-friendly” event, it would not have been removed had customers not complained.
Following Baba’s Olives posting the initial video, Tala has posted several follow-up videos and posts including one where she explained that for her, the food stand was “never a money-making” endeavor but “a mechanism of food diplomacy” and a means to share Palestinian culture and food, as well as “our lived experiences with systems of oppression.” Even after employees of Queens Night Market removed the booth signage, Tala says she gave out food for free, continued to hold up the signs, and used the stand as a way to educate people on the atrocities happening to Palestinians in Gaza and the occupied West Bank.
Any signs displayed at Queens Night Market must be pre-approved, according to Wang, though incidents of their removal are rare, he says. Tala says she has made other changes at her booth during her annual appearances at Queens Night Market that did not go through that process, and those faced no issues.
Wang has built a reputation for creating a home for Queens immigrant food makers, the market relies on them as its backbone; the New York Times named it one of the top 100 places to dine in the city earlier this year.
“We acknowledge and are deeply saddened by the human tragedies that are occurring in the Middle East,” said Wang.
Wang has used Queens Night Market in the past to raise funds for refugees — and in a follow-up conversation with Tala, she felt that in light of this, the removal of her Palestinian sign was “hypocritical,” especially given the nature of the market’s premise.
Despite some suggestions online to the contrary, Wang clarified the booth’s Palestinian flag remaining displayed at the booth was not an issue.
Muslim Foodies, a TikTok account with more than 100,000 followers that highlights halal-friendly restaurants in New York City and has covered the food festival over the years, issued a statement following the incident. It said the removal of the sign “dehumanizes Palestinians, and devalues all that the Queens Night Market represents.” The group called for Queens Night Market to issue an apology, but added that at the time of publishing, it was not calling for a boycott of the event series as it “is the only way for a lot of vendors to make ends meet and have the opportunity to share their culture.” Meanwhile, another restaurant social media platform, the Halal Guide, has gone further to call for a boycott of the market.
Tala said she has no interest in returning to the Queens Night Market in the future, but she’s also not calling for a boycott. She hopes Wang and the market — which has built its success on highlighting cuisines from around the globe — will use this as a “teaching moment” to look inward at their “mission statement” and “guiding principles” going forward.
Queens Night Market closed out its season this weekend and returns next spring.