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  • Marty Gold

LGBTQ Group: BerMax Was "Very Pushy For Us To Start The $300,000 Fundraiser."

The spokesman for an LGBTQ group that was sharing space in BerMax Caffe + Bistro was interviewed for 4 hours this week by Winnipeg police, who are following up on their complaint that $300 was missing from their cashbox after what police say was a faked violent invasion staged on April 18th to seem like the handiwork of Nazi antisemites.

The Be'TLV logo - a gift from Maxim Berent to the LGBTQ group - defaced with a swastika

The owners of the restaurant have been charged with mischief - but the volunteer-run Israeli group says they are victims of a hate crime because their own property inside the offices was defaced by a spray painted swastika.

Prior to going to police, K'Fir Mulder gave exclusive insight into the operation of the facility and the pressure he says they were under to run social events - and to raise money to buy the formerly-Kosher River Heights eatery.

Immediately after 2 incidents in February where the property was spray-painted with antisemitic graffiti, Mulder says that Be'TLV was approached to use the facility as a base to hold events. He says restaurant operator Maxim Berent "contacted us out of the blue in February and gave us his pitch to give us a home in the restaurant" and downplayed the incidents, portraying that "it wasn't that serious an issue, it was vandalism and wasn't something that happened on a regular basis." That would be in stark contrast to other statements Berent made publicly that it was a pattern of more serious harassment.

The signs came down at Bermax and an eviction notice was posted for rent arrears, the day after the Berents were charged with faking an antisemetic attack

"They were very pushy, we wanted to develop things over time. The more they saw we could bring in people, the more pushy they became to hold more." By the time of the alleged hoax attack, about a dozen events had been put on, but even before then things weren't adding up.

"Initially they started talking to us about taking over the restaurant. We explained we didn't have the money for a franchise", said Mulder, whose partner is the head of the Israeli social organization. "They said business was booming" and according to Mulder urged the group to start a crowdsourcing campaign to raise the money.

"They were very pushy for us to start the $300,000 fundraiser."

However, one of their members had been hired as a server and noticed "it was only busy when we had events. He was being sent home (some shifts) because it was so slow." According to Mulder, the employee was told not to come in at all for a scheduled shift the evening of April 18th, the night the supposed attack on Berent's mother Oxana happened after closing time. She is now co-accused with her son, and husband Alexander, with Mischief over the incident.

The charges have created a great deal of hurt for Be'TLV, which has been targeted with online antisemitic smears and homophobia over being affiliated with the hoax, and were apparently even asked by a police officer if they did the spray painting inside the premises. In reality, at ground zero of the sense of betrayal and humiliation of the Jewish community over the matter, the group stands as the real victims. One of the online attacks stated "should have burned it down with the men in drag inside". (It is unknown if THAT is being investigated as a Hate Crime.)

According to Mulder, the police did not realize that one of the swastika's was sprayed onto property belonging the gay group - a logo with Hebrew lettering gifted by Maxim to them, and which hung on the wall in an office space Maxim provided to them for gatherings and event planning. That has now been clarified, and Mulder believes that the hurtful action - even if committed by a Jew towards another Jew - should stand as a Hate Crime, given the double dose of genocide that gay Jews faced in the Holocaust.

However, TheJ.Ca has confirmed that under the Criminal Code, the path to lay a hate crime charge would be very narrow as at law, such a charge is based on limited factors, including if there was incitement for others to commit violence, or if a religious institution was targeted.

On that basis, it appears the 'Pig Poster' stuck onto the door of the area Reform Synagogue one week before the BerMax incident might qualify, and sources say investigators are actively pursuing a possible connection between the two.

The defacement of the logo was eerily familiar to Mulder, who said he had told Maxim about a disturbing break-in he and his spouse suffered in 2014 that resulted in antisemitic and homophobic slurs and swastikas spray painted in and outside of their home, as well as the desecration of their religious artifacts.

"I had spoken with Maxim about it and that I wanted to be more connected to the Jewish community since I felt we went through it alone. He saw the photos." In addition to the sympathy offered by Maxim, "a lot of members in the group got so close to Oxana in particular", because their own families had rejected them due to their lifestyle choices.

"To have that acceptance ... " Mulder said, his voice trailing off. "They told us they were doing well. They said they were planning - they had a place picked out in Malibu and were looking for someone to run it in Winnipeg."

Next: What Mulder and Be'TLV were told about the incident and the police investigation by the Berents; how troubling aspects of the attack didn't add up for the group as a genuine antisemitic invasion.