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Uber Eats creates Palestinian category after Toronto restaurant controversy

Uber Eats is creating a Palestinian category after several Toronto restaurants were mislabelled as “Israeli” last weekend.

The food delivery app confirmed Saturday it will introduce the new category globally next month, following criticism from restaurant owners who noticed their establishments were showing up under searches for “Israeli” despite not being Israeli.

“This is a Canadian-made gift for all Palestinians all over the place. This is unbelievable,” said Costa Warwar, who is Palestinian and one of the restaurant owners who fought for the change as head chef and part owner of Flaming Stove.

Warwar became emotional talking about what the change means for him.

“I’m used to living in a world as a Palestinian that’s full of disappointment, injustice and inequality. And that was the norm for me. It’s like a companionship that you get used to,” he said.

“But today what happened, through a small little win … it’s an emotional thing to say, but it’s almost like I’ve been seen. And I’m equal to stand shoulder to shoulder with any other person who is a chef somewhere who’s creating food that comes from where his essence and his culture come from.”

Levant Pizza, a Palestinian Lebanese pizzeria, shared a post on Instagram Friday saying the change has a “profound” impact.

“Palestinian cuisine will now prominently feature on a global food platform, allowing thousands of restaurants worldwide to showcase their identity,” the post reads. 

Levant drew public attention to the Israeli miscategorization last weekend, calling it a “blatant anti-Palestinian action” in a since-removed Instagram post that received more than 1,300 comments. Toronto content creator Hamsa Diab Farhat published a TikTok about the issue that has been watched more than 326,000 times, and many Uber Eats users expressed anger with the company on social media, with some calling for a boycott.

The uproar led to a series of discussions between Toronto restaurant owners and Uber Eats representatives, culminating in the creation of the Palestinian category. Uber Eats already has numerous specific categories for other international cuisine, including Lebanese, Pakistani, Egyptian, Turkish, Afghan and Iranian.

Company spokesperson Keerthana Rang said in an email Saturday that the Palestinian category will be available on the app by Jan. 14. Rang said Uber Eats is grateful to Levant Pizza for raising the issue, and that merchants will be able to reach out to the app’s support team to request a Palestinian category tag starting in early January.

“This issue pertained to search,” Rang said. “A number of factors influence search results including selection, frequency, and conversion. ‘Israeli’ has been listed and searched more times than ‘Palestinian,’ influencing search expansion. Uber Eats also didn’t have a Palestinian category previously, which also contributed.”

Warwar said he is unsure whether the move will ultimately benefit Flaming Stove. He said he recognizes that he might be compromising his restaurant by speaking out on a controversial issue, and is preparing for a potential loss of business.

“But I also made the decision that, for my kids, for what I immigrated into this country for, why I am here, I can stand up for what’s right for me — to be proud of who I am, and to make my kids be proud of who they are as Canadian-Palestinians. They deserve this,” he said.

“Even if I have to go and work in someone’s kitchen in the end, God forbid, that would be a price that I am willing to pay.”

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