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Holy Land, a well-known Mediterranean restaurant and grocery store in Minneapolis, is facing a boycott of its business by customers and vendors after past racist posts by the daughter of the store’s CEO surfaced on social media.
CEO Majdi Wadi fired his daughter Lianne Wadi, 23, — who is also his catering director — as soon as her tweets from 2012 emerged early Thursday morning alongside an Instagram post from 2016 using the N-word in the caption. She posted a photo with a monkey captioned: “Made friends with this little n**** today.”
In an interview with Sahan Journal, Majdi said he will hire a consultant to train employees against bias and examine any issues of racism at Holy Land. “I am ready to conduct an investigation,” Majdi said. “I’m ready for any consequences.”
Majdi said he has reached out to black and Jewish leaders in the Twin Cities and has received no response so far. He will be meeting with a Somali community leader Friday. He did not give the names of these leaders.
“I have no-tolerance policy when it comes to discrimination with any race,” Majdi said.
In a statement posted to Facebook, Wadi noted that Lianne, 23, posted the racist comments as a teenager, Wadi said they don’t “accurately reflect who my daughter is as a person now, as she has been involved in bettering herself and her community by donating her time and energy to advocate for all people of color.”
“Most immigrants, we make the same mistake. We’re not educated about the culture,” Majdi said. “Nobody ever taught us how to raise a kid in America.”
Lianne Wadi apologized Thursday on Instagram after her posts resurfaced on social media.
“I was so shocked that I even posted something so offensive,” she wrote. “I recognize the gravity of my words and how hurtful they can be and how hurtful they were. I wasn’t thinking. I was a teenager at the time (although my youth is not an excuse).”
Lianne had posted multiple tweets repeatedly using the N-word, spewing anti-Somali and anti-Semitic rhetoric, and promoting a pro-Hitler Twitter account when she was a teenager.
In one of several tweets from 2012, she said, “#HighSchoolTaughtMe If your Somalian your automatically hated<3.”
She also said that a fake Hitler account “reads my mind.” The original tweet said ”Top 3 races you wish to eliminate. Ready, go! Jews, blacks, and the fats.”
“#IfIwasPresident I’d finish off what hitler started and rule the world,” Lianne said in another tweet.
The posts began circulating on social media in a tense atmosphere just days after protests against the police killing of George Floyd erupted across the country.
After her posts reemerged on social media, Lianne wrote an apology Thursday on Instagram.
“I was so shocked that I even posted something so offensive,” Lianne posted. “I recognize the gravity of my words and how hurtful they can be and how hurtful they were. I wasn’t thinking. I was a teenager at the time (although my youth is not an excuse).”
“You learn through your experience being in the United States that some actions that you used to do back home are not acceptable here,” Majdi said in an interview.
Majdi attributed his daughter’s behavior to growing up as a “troubled teen” who grew up as the only Muslim girl in their suburb. She was just trying to fit in, he said. Lianne saw a therapist when she was in middle school and then attended a boarding school in Utah for two years.
“If I have a racist family,” Majdi said, “how come my other two kids are not like this?”
Muna Azam found and highlighted some of Lianne’s racist posts on her Twitter account Thursday. A former Holy Land customer, Azam said she was always impressed by the company’s racial and ethnic diversity — and disappointed when she saw the posts.
“You employ people of color, you cater to people of color,” Azam said. “What’s going on behind closed doors?”
Comments under Azam’s social media posts exposing Lianne called for a boycott of the business.
On Instagram, Saria Baker said that her family, which has been shopping at Holy Land for 15 years, will no longer be giving them any business. She also posted a list of black-owned halal grocers in Minneapolis to support instead.
One comment from a former Holy Land employee said the problem was deeper than Lianne’s social media posts. “I remember very vividly the difference in treatment of their Somali and Mexican staff to their Arab staff,” the former employee said. “I remember the owner verbally accosting Somali employees.”
Holy Land has locations in Northeast Minneapolis and Midtown Global Market.
Management at Midtown Global Market, however, said in a statement Thursday they were terminating their lease with Holy Land in light of the racist posts. “In no way does Midtown Global Market tolerate any words, actions, or activity that do not support our global community,” the organization said.
Since the posts resurfaced, the backlash has been swift. Seward Co-op has removed Holy Land products from its stock and will not accept additional deliveries or work with Holy Land in the future, Seward said in a statement. “In the midst of the fight for true liberation of Black bodies, Seward Co-op stands with community in calling for justice and calling for peace,” the co-op said.
On Friday morning, Mississippi Market Food Co-op announced via Facebook that it “immediately removed all of their products from our shelves and have severed our relationship.”
“Holy Land products pulled from our shelves will be donated to our neighborhood food shelves with a disclosure of why we are donating these items,” the co-op posted.
Lianne has since deleted all posts from her Instagram account, except for the statement of apology and a section called “BLM” where she’s been sharing posts in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I strongly believe in and wholeheartedly support the Black Lives Matter movement,” Lianne said in her statement. “I have recognized my privilege and use my privilege to better my community and those around me, specifically, on the social and racial injustices our black community members face on a daily basis.”
Hibah Ansari is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.