By George S. Hishmeh – Washington, D.C.
Here we go again. Hummus is back in the news, and almost on the front pages of American newspapers. My column, titled ‘The Undeclared War on Arab Cuisine’ and written more than two years ago, had received more letters than most columns I have written. This is probably because I challenged the claims of Israelis or their friends that this popular dip and Couscous, among others, were misidentified as Israeli, another of the many unfounded claims of Israelis.
This is how The New York Times led its news report (on page 7) on December 3:
“Forget Hezbollah and Hamas. The latest chapter in the Israeli-Arab (not Arab-Israeli) conflict is all about hummus, the chickpea dip that is a staple of American college cafeterias.”
Well and good. But, this time around, the point of the story was that Palestinian students and their supporters at Princeton and DePaul universities have challenged the sale at the university cafeterias of hummus under the brand name, Sabra, “in an effort to focus attention on accusations that Israeli military forces violated human rights.”
The point of the story is that the manufacturer of this brand of hummus – Sabra Dipping Company – has ties to an Israel Defense Force brigade “notorious for allegations of human rights abuses.” And more significantly the student effort came against the backdrop of another expanding campaign known as boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel in order to comply with International Law and Universal Principles of Human Rights. This five-year-old movement, established by 171 non-government organizations, views Israel as analogous to South Africa in the apartheid era.
Although the Palestinian students and their supporters lost the Princeton referendum vote for another hummus brand – 1014 to 699, Yoel Bitran, the Jewish president of the Princeton Committee on Palestine(PCP), told The Daily Princetonian that he was excited by the high amount of student support. “The main goal of this initiative was to raise awareness about Sabra and its association to Israel’s human rights violations,” he said. “In that sense we have been extremely successful.” Bitran added that Princeton Committee on Palestine still hopes to convince the University to provide an alternative hummus.
PCP had sponsored the referendum as part of a larger boycott campaign against the Strauss Group, an Israeli-held conglomerate that owns 50 percent of Sabra Dipping Company and has financially and publicly supported the Golani Brigade of the Israeli Defense Forces.
At DePaul, the Catholic university administration backtracked after initially agreeing to stop stocking the Sabra brand and issued a “clarification that it will reshelve the product while it awaits the results of an ethics review.”
Jonathan Corin, writing in The Socialist Worker, exposed the Golani brigade, revealing that it “has participated in nearly every IDF campaign involving the displacement and murder of Palestinian civilians since the Nakba in 1948, including Israel’s 2008-2009 assault on Gaza that killed more than 1.400 Palestinians, most of whom were unarmed non-combatants, in just three weeks.”
He also quoted a woman student only identified by her first name, Shirien, as saying that “the temporary suspension of Sabra at DePaul is a small victory, but I think something like this gets people pumped up and ready for more … When it come s to something like justice for Palestine, every little victory eats away at the monster of injustice and brings us one step closer to victory.”
Noura Erakat, a human rights attorney and adjunct professor of international human rights law at Georgetown University, believes that “any form of BDS movement on campuses, within institutions and communities is a positive one and a significant step in the solidarity movement for Palestinian freedom and self-determination.”
She went on to explain that “the reasons for, and thinking behind, the (student) campaign against Sabra are just as important, if not more so, than the outcome itself since BDS is meant to mobilize a grassroots solidarity movement to be stakeholders in ending Israeli colonialism and apartheid.”
Palestinians are nowadays sponsoring Israeli Apartheid Week in 40 cities worldwide and for the first time in Beirut, Lebanon this year. As far as the U.S. is concerned, a New York activist is quoted as saying that she has discovered that American audiences relate much more easily to narratives of institutionalized racial discrimination than those of occupation. “Hence,” Erakat underlined, “they work to draw parallels between the civil rights movement and the Palestinian movement to achieve freedom and equality.”
Back to Hummus!
– George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. Contact him at: Hishmehg@aol.com.