June 7, 2021 By Christian Murray
Activists put up a controversial message on the marquee sign at the shuttered Sunnyside movie theater about two weeks ago—and the property owner is coming under fire from many Jewish residents.
John Ciafone, the owner of the vacant cinema at 42-17 Queens Blvd., has been bombarded with e-mails and phone calls in recent days from people protesting the “From the River to the Sea” message that is on the cinema marquee.
The message has been on the theater sign since thousands of people came to Sunnyside for a pro-Palestinian rally, residents say. Many chanted at the rally “From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will Be Free.”
“Many people are very upset,” Ciafone said, who had no knowledge that the message was there until he was contacted recently. “Many people in the Jewish community have reached out to me. I have been receiving e-mails and phone calls about it.”
The message is a common rallying cry from members of the pro-Palestinian movement, although many pro-Israel supporters say it is a call for the destruction of the Jewish state and erasing its people. They say the message is commonly used by Hamas and other terrorist organizations.
“I knew nothing about this until people reached out to me,” Ciafone said. “These people did not have permission to do this. I hear it is very offensive.”
Ciafone said that he has called someone to come out and take the message down. He will be reviewing the video, he said, and apologized that it was up there.
This is not the first time Ciafone’s marquee sign has been targeted.
In January, Ciafone was the subject of the message.
Ciafone, who said he was very offended by the January message, has owned the property since 2012 and planned to develop it. His desire to develop the site led to the controversial closure of the cinema in 2015. The site remains undeveloped.
Ciafone was upset that his signage was targeted once again.
“This is the result of a gang of progressive, anti-development, radicals,” he said. “These are the people who also hate the police.”