Hany Baransi, the Christian Israeli Arab whose Columbus, Ohio, restaurant was attacked in February by a machete-wielding assailant, has announced he will soon file for bankruptcy and close his restaurant.
Only months ago, Baransi triumphantly reopened the Nazareth Restaurant & Deli, wielding his signature baseball in front of Israeli flags, only weeks after the attack by Mohamed Bary, a West African Muslim with a history of making radical Islamist statements.
Four people were injured in the attack, one seriously. All have since recovered.
Baransi blamed his financial woes on not receiving any compensation from local, state or federal governments following the attack. He said he personally footed the bill for the expensive cleanup.
“I fell $12,000 behind on payroll and tried to work out a deal with my employees so I could keep the doors open, but it didn’t work out,” the restaurateur told The Times of Israel by phone Sunday, only three weeks after returning to Columbus from a vacation in his native Haifa.
Baransi, who proudly displayed an Israeli flag at his Middle Eastern-style restaurant, is convinced he was Bary’s intended target and has consistently asserted the attack was terrorism.
In late February, the Associated Press reported the FBI had not found any evidence to suggest that the assault was an orchestrated terror attack.
“Business bounced back once we reopened. Customers were coming, but we just couldn’t make it work. I’m going to be filing for bankruptcy,” said Baransi, 50.
While the demise of his 27-year-old restaurant is hard to face, even more difficult is the criticism he has received from both fellow Americans and his friends and relatives in Israel for speaking his mind about what happened.
‘A lot of people started attacking me for defending Israel and saying that it was a terrorist attack’
“The Times of Israel article on me was shared around a lot,” Baransi said of a feature story on him published on May 7.
“People who had always loved and supported me continued to do so, but a lot of people started attacking me for defending Israel and saying that it was a terrorist attack. Even the wife of one of the victims got angry at me for saying it wasn’t just a random attack. People think I should accept that something happened and that I should get over it,” he said Sunday.
“People are asking me what I have turned into,” he continued, referring to his decision to be a pro-Israel activist.
Earlier this month, Baransi hung a large Israeli flag given him by Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer and held an Israel Independence Day celebration at the Nazareth for the first time. He has also posed with customers in front of the flag for photos posted to social media.
On May 10, Baransi attended and gave testimony at an Ohio House of Representatives Government Oversight and Accountability hearing on a bill that would prohibit a state agency from contracting with a company that is boycotting Israel or disinvesting from Israel.
“People can’t expect me to react to what happened as though I don’t know what I know and don’t have the life experience I have,” Baransi said in defense of his pro-Israel stance.
‘I am Israeli and I am sick and tired of all of this cutting Israel out and boycotting us’
“When Obama preaches about Muslims and puts down Israel, it pisses me off. People just don’t understand. If I were from Syria, Iran, Iraq or Jordan, I wouldn’t mention it. I am ashamed of those places. But I am Israeli and I am sick and tired of all of this cutting Israel out and boycotting us. Israel is the safest place in the world for me as a Christian Arab,” he continued.
Baransi told The Times of Israel that some of his friends and relatives in Israel have also been unhappy with him since the attack on his restaurant.
“As Israeli Arabs, they don’t want me to be so pro-Israel. But I think they need to start acting more like Israeli citizens. If they stand up for Israel together with Israeli Jews, the government will support them more,” he said.
At this point, Baransi is taking things day by day. He’s not sure what his next step will be. He may end up returning to Israel, but before he does that, he’d like to try opening a different kind of eating establishment in Columbus — a kosher deli.
“I would like to go into business with some Jewish or Israeli partners,” he said.
Such a venture may put Baransi in even more of a pickle than he is now. With kosher delis closing in areas with large Jewish populations like Los Angeles and Long Island, opening a new one in a metro area with only 25,000 Jews may prove risky.
But then again, since the attack on the Nazareth, Baransi is not afraid of taking risks.