A Boycott Spreads

Opinion

By Thane Rosenbaum

Published December 08, 2010, issue of December 17, 2010.
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You know the delegitimization campaign targeting Israel has reached new heights of absurdity when the rallying cry against the Jewish state is now being waged with the help of the chickpea. What a low blow — Israel’s enemies are hitting where it really hurts: hummus.

Hummus, that pasty spread without which pita has no purpose, is the subject of anti-Israel boycott efforts. In Philadelphia, pro-Palestinian activists are urging local supermarkets to pull two brands of hummus from their shelves.

The anti-hummus campaign has also spread to college campuses. At Chicago’s DePaul University, there are demands to stop the sale of Sabra hummus on campus. At Princeton, boycott supporters sponsored a student referendum that would have called on the school’s dining services to provide an alternative hummus alongside Sabra’s brand.

Ironically, Sabra isn’t even an Israe .li company — it’s based in Queens and Virginia. It is co-owned by PepsiCo and the Strauss Group, an Israeli firm that reportedly provides financial support to the Golani brigade in Israel, which some have accused of human rights abuses.

Good news for falafel-lovers everywhere: So far, the anti-hummus campaign has been a bust. The Philadelphia boycott was parried with a hummus “buycott” from pro-Israel shoppers. At Princeton, students voted solidly to reject the call for an alternative hummus. Perhaps they didn’t believe that Israel should be singled out. Or maybe they just really liked Sabra’s hummus.

The war on hummus is the latest salvo from a global boycott, divestment and sanctions movement that aims to turn Israel into a pariah state. British academic unions have called for boycotts of Israeli scholars. Israeli sports teams and athletes have been met with game cancellations and sometimes violent protests. A number of musicians, including Elvis Costello and Carlos Santana, have canceled Israeli concert dates. A food co-op in Olympia, Wash., has decided to boycott Israeli products.

With so much cultural condemnation and so many threats of economic divestment, it seems as if the enemies of Israel have finally reached the point where they are drawing a line in the hummus. What will be the next target? Grapevine dancing?

There’s nothing wrong with a good principled boycott in the name of human rights. But why then are such displays of righteousness directed so overwhelmingly at Israel? After all, Israelis want peace, and most know that a two-state solution with secure borders is the price they will have to pay to maintain their liberal democracy and Jewish continuity. The trouble is that when Israel withdrew from Lebanon and Gaza, it ended up in wars with Hezbollah and Hamas, which is hardly a good omen for secure borders.

Meanwhile, in the rest of the Middle East, elections are stolen, corruption is rampant and religious freedom for anyone other than Islamic zealots is often as elusive as a desert mirage. In some countries, homosexuals and women face lashings and the threat of stoning or hanging. Beheadings and dismemberments are not uncommon either.

Where are the principled human rights advocates when it comes to the moral crimes of the Arab world? Boycotts and divestments, we are told, are essential game changers. Yet advocacy groups and college students won’t apply them equally wherever human rights abuses are found.

Why aren’t the activists who criticize Israel calling for a boycott of Persian rugs from Iran? What about Egyptian cotton, oil from Saudi Arabia and whatever it is that Syria makes other than trouble?

Now activists are busy using hummus to spackle over the double standards that are abundant when it comes to the Middle East.

Delegitimization can take many forms — some serious, like the denial of Israel’s existence; and others bizarre, like accusations in recent years by some Lebanese that Israel has stolen their traditional hummus recipes. Apparently, Israelis have no authentic connection to the chickpea, which is just a short culinary step away from saying that they have no connection to the land.

Maybe the boycotters of Sabra are protesting not its hummus, but its name.

Thane Rosenbaum, a novelist, essayist and law professor at Fordham Law School, is the director of the Forum on Law, Culture & Society.


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