Hummus Wars II: ‘No Justice No Peas’

Flash-Dance-Action‘No Justice! No (Chick)Peas!’

Doesn’t really have the right ring to it does it? How about ‘Stop buying Israeli mushed chickpeas and sesame paste!’

Again, rx something’s not catching on here.

But that hasn’t stopped the success of an energetic new coalition of pro-Palestinian activists in Philadelphia, contagion whose flash dance calling on supermarket shoppers to boycott Israeli hummus earlier this week is getting a lot of play among pro-Palestinian activists in the US.

Hummus sure has gotten political lately.

Taking an innocent look at the Middle Eastern dip, visit this site one wouldn’t think mushed chickpeas and sesame paste with a bit of oil, salt, garlic and lemon would inspire any particular political fervor, but for the last two years the innocent, pasty looking dish has been at the center of jingoistic activism, nationalist competition and increasingly well organized pro-Palestinian boycotts.

Hummus entered the global political boxing ring in late 2008 when a group of Israelis cooked up the largest hummus dish ever made. Hardly about to allow the world to miss a made-for-TV moment of Zionist pride, the Israeli government invited the international media and an official judge from the Guinness Book of World Records. It was official, the papers read the next day, the Jewish state had made the world’s biggest Hummus dish.

In retrospect, that may have been a strategic mistake.

Just north of the blue and white celebrations, the Lebanese were not about to let such a stinging embarrassment slide. Indeed, for about five years Lebanese food industry representatives have been trying to get an international copyright slapped on Hummus, to prevent Israelis from selling the pasty beige dip (Greece made a similar move with Feta cheese).

Nonetheless, Lebanese cooks went out to show ‘the Zionist entity’ where they can shove their Hummus and literally hundreds of chefs worked together to produce almost 3,000 pounds of Hummus (well over 1000 pounds more than Israel) in a massive satellite dish, decorating the final product with colored spices in the shape of a Lebanese flag.

A food activist’s nightmare, this Middle Eastern Hummus war went back and forth at least twice, and for a few months earlier this year, one wouldn’t be amiss to remark that a good portion of activism and news surrounding Israeli-Arab relations revolved around Hummus.

This week the Hummus wars went global and into a slightly more political arena: a West Philadelphia supermarket.

Rallying to the banner “No Justice No (Chick)Peas”, activists headed to Will Smith’s old neighborhood and surprised shoppers at Fresh Grocer with a choreographed flash dance calling on the supermarket to stop selling Sabra, a Hummus brand made by an Israeli-owned company.

The action, which we’ll take the liberty of dubbing the first shot in ‘Hummus War II’, comes out of a global movement calling for boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) on Israel as a pressure tactic to get Israel to end its occupation of the Palestinian Territories (the West Bank and Gaza Strip).

Philly BDS argues that Sabra’s hummus products “subsidize Israeli human rights abuses through their support of the Israeli Defense Forces and infrastructure of the occupation.”

The largest hummus manufacturer in the world, Sabra Dipping is a US-based company owned in equal parts by The Strauss Group and PepsiCo. Israel’s second largest food and beverage company, The Strauss Group supports elite Israeli army units as part of its corporate responsibility package. Most notable among them, The Strauss Group has proudly supported the Golani and Givati Brigades for over 30 years, “being there at the front to spoil them with our best products,” according to their website.

The Golani brigade is often in the news, accused of severe human rights abuses against Palestinian and Lebanese people, including an infamous 2005 incident in which a Golani Brigade officer was convicted of beating a Palestinian detainee and threatening to dismember him. Yigal Amir, a far right Jewish extremist who assassinated former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, was also a member of the Golani Brigade.

For better or worse, there is not enough space in this post to get into the arguments for and against a boycott of Israeli products. But Hummus War II is certainly not over, and we here at wonder what our readers think, both of the flash dance tactic, and of the call to boycott Israeli products.

Tell us, what’s your take?

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Photo credit: PhillyBDS