Iranian American deli owner Iraj Rafeli has had about enough of NFL kneelers.
Rafeli, who owns Ira’s Deli in Portland, Oregon’s low-income Cully neighborhood, emigrated to the United States from Iran in 1980 during the Islamic revolution. In the time since, he’s pledged allegiance to the United States and served in the military as a translator during the first Gulf war, Williamette Week reports.
The NFL protests during the National Anthem disrespect the country he now calls home, he said.
“It’s not the principle,” Rafeli said. “I’m not a politician, I am a veteran. I fought for our country, I deeply believe in our flag, in the national anthem. It’s a matter of respect. I’m an American.”
Rafeli’s disgust of the NFL protests convinced him to tune out the games, though he received a flood of hate on the restaurant review app Yelp! and hostile calls to his business after announcing the change.
The decision came after President Trump recently reignited debate about NFL players kneeling during the national anthem to protest perceived police brutality against blacks. Trump told attendees at a campaign rally that he’d love to see NFL owners fire players who protest, and encouraged fans to boycott games to voice their opposition.
“When I came to this country—it’s the best country on the face of the earth. I love the United States. I vowed to respect the flag,” Rafeli told Williamette Week. “Nothing I do is political or religious. I feel that we should respect all flags. If you respect all flags, all nations, they will respect yours.”
Many folks in the wildly liberal city disagree, and several decided to target the deli online.
“After asking to watch some games on a Sunday,” one post read. “They got political when they wouldn’t put any of the NFL games on after Trump attacked the league and players for kneeling during the anthem. I respect their decision for doing so but will not be returning.”
“Wouldn’t eat here again…management thinks it’s being oh so patriotic with its ban on NFL due to take-a knee protests…I’ll take my business elsewhere,” another wrote.
“Great hangout to watch football until they got all political about it and stopped showing the games,” yet another post read. “Nothing like alienating your customers over petty political issues.”
Virtually the only complaints about the deli centered on Rafeli’s decision to turn off the NFL.
Of course, several folks applauded his patriotism.
“As a fellow veteran, I am very glad I have a place to go to on Sunday that doesn’t pander to multimillionaires crying about how oppressed they are,” a supporter posted. “Way to stand up for your beliefs Ira. You can see how some of these clowns ‘support the troops.’ Multimillionaire athlete – total freedom of speech. Veteran business owner – not so much.
“And the Reuben? Best in town!”
“Thank you for your support of our Flag and Country,” another local wrote. “I will make a point to stop in and support your business.”
Rafei told Eater a flood of calls to his deli has become a distraction, and he’s no longer interested in discussing the situation.
“People keep calling,” he said. “I am a veteran, and I just want to run a business.”