Students for Peace and Justice in Palestine (SPJP) is organizing a boycott against the hummus company Sabra, whose products are sold in both snack bars on campus. The Strauss Group, partial owner of Sabra and Israel’s second largest food and beverage company, is an active supporter of the Golani Brigade, a section of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) known for its “atrocious” human rights record, according to SPJP member Danny Hirschel-Burns ’14. It was responsible for Operation Cast Lead, a three week bombing and invasion of the Gaza Strip in 2008, and is currently playing an active role in the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.
“SPJP is a humanitarian group and we see the occupation as a violation of human rights and even more obviously a violation of international law,” Hirschel-Burns said. “At least symbolically, for Swarthmore to follow its commitment to social justice, it cannot support companies that support things like the occupation of Palestinian territories.”
Sabra’s website explicitly stated that the Strauss Group has a special relationship with the Golani Brigade. While the statement was taken down, it was never retracted. Although it talked explicitly about presenting the soldiers with care packages and funding other welfare programs, there is no proof that they do not finance their military training or supply the brigade with weapons. Still, SPJP maintains that regardless of the type of aid the group is providing, Sabra’s indirect support of the Golani Brigade specifically — a group responsible for the violations SPJP stands against most fervently — is enough to boycott Sabra’s products.
“The ideological support is enough for us to believe that buying Sabra products is morally wrong … Their money is an endorsement of what they do,” Hirschel-Burns said.
The student group met with Vice President of Facilities and Services Stu Hain to discuss the boycott and, according to SPJP president Ahmad Ammous, were told that the ban of Sabra products could not even be considered a feasible option unless enough students expressed interest in standing against the company.
“We value and support our students’ right to boycott a product in order to bring attention to an issue. The most important consideration, however, is what kind of constructive dialogue becomes possible once an issue is brought to light,” Hain said in an e-mail. “We are most successful as an engaged, civil community, where students, faculty and staff can participate and discuss all aspects of an issue in a well informed, civil way.”
Hirschel-Burns, along with Sara Dwider ’13, also an SPJP member, wrote an op-ed in the Daily Gazette outlining their mission and goals that received extensive commentary and criticism on part of the student body. It even elicited a response in the form of another op-ed, which received just as many comments. This has been seen as the beginning of a “constructive dialogue” to be had on the matter, according to Hain.
“I’m really glad it was written,” Hirschel-Burns said. “One thing we’re really committed to is having constructive dialogue and figuring out what everybody is arguing for … I think it was productive.”
Although SPJP’s intended boycott is not affiliated with any other group or protest, it is somewhat modeled after the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) international movement, which supports the Palestinian cause because of Israel’s lack of compliance with international law, and whose list of targets include Sabra.
“The point of our boycott is to inspire other campuses around the country, or even around the world, to do the same thing because although boycotting Sabra at our coffee bars won’t have a huge economic impact, it will make a moral statement, showing that as a community we will not tolerate human rights violations,” Hirschel-Burns said.
Ammous agrees. “We’re trying to spread the message to the campus that we are all playing a part in the occupation and that there’s something that we can do about it,” he said.
The boycott does not stand against Israel. Instead, it is intended to stand against the occupation, which can be objectively seen as an impediment to peace.
In order to continue the conversation, SPJP plans to hold a panel for students and staff to discuss the issue and will also be hosting a “hummus parlor party” to teach students how to make their own hummus early next week.
The group will also be starting a petition to show the administration that Swarthmore students are against the occupation and willing to give up their Sabra hummus and pretzels for the cause.