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A case for leaving hummus alone

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

Last week, Students For Justice in Palestine wrote an op-ed in the Phoenix, calling for the college to stop selling Sabra products and claiming the effort was “about more than hummus.” To me at least, the question seems to be less to do with being about hummus, but why hummus. The larger movement efforts like these are associated with, B.D.S. calls for widespread boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israel and entities associated with Israel. There is definitely something to be said for criticism of Israeli actions I certainly think Netanyahu has no interest in a just peace process and that the settlements in Palestinian territory are extremely problematic but the idea that Israel is uniquely worthy of condemnation, to the point of dictating hummus brand choices, is absurd.

Firstly, the idea that Israel is some horrific sponsor of repression, exceptional or extreme among nations, is wrong on the merits. Israel is the Mideast’s best-functioning (really only) democracy, with strong rule of law, an open liberal society, and vibrant freedom of speech and the press that extend to all its citizens, not just those of Jewish heritage. It also sends hundreds of millions of dollars a year in aid to the Palestinian Authority, of which at least 46 million is paid out by the authority to convicted terrorists and their families, in a very conservative estimate by The Washington Post. If the B.D.S. movement or S.J.P. were seriously concerned with calling Swarthmore to take action against state repression, shouldn’t we be boycotting products made in China, which is an authoritarian police state that violently suppresses unrest in Tibet? At least a little consistency in calling out human rights violations would be desirable. Even if the argument is made that it’s not an either/or, the notable lack of concern for human rights issues in countries other than Israel makes me wonder whether Israel, as I’ll expand on later, is held to a far higher and harsher standard than any other country. And to criticize Israel on the grounds that its creation expelled Palestinian people is certainly legitimate but does nothing to deal with the reality of a stable state that just turned 70.

To be frank, isn’t Hamas in the Gaza strip a far more severe violator of human rights than Israel ever has been? According to Human Rights Watch, Hamas censors speech and print counter to its ideology, uses cruel and unusual methods of punishments such as hanging, circumvents due process, tortured hundreds of Gazan supporters of Fatah, and actively celebrates unprovoked attacks against civilians.

The effect of the boycott is also nil, both to change how Israel acts and to bring more people into the B.D.S. fold. The actual actions that S.J.P. wants to protest, the performance of the Golani brigade in counterterrorism operations, are barely connected to Sabra. Sabra is partially owned by a company that sends the Golani Brigade care packages of hummus. Suffice it to say that if Sabra is pressured to cut off that support, the Golani Brigade will not have difficulty finding replacement hummus, or much care that Sabra is no longer sending them packages. It is Israel, after all. And do S.J.P. and their supporters really believe that stridently protesting hummus packages, essentially saying that any person or entity tangentially connected to Israel should be cast out of polite society, is going to convince people not already ideologically committed to opposing Israel? The whole affair really seems more like an effort to ritually purge the college of unclean Israeli products than any sort of meaningful action.

The stated methods of B.D.S. are also fairly extreme: boycotting all Israeli companies, academic, cultural, and sporting institutions, and expelling Israel from international bodies like the U.N. This is an unfair moral standard that we hold basically no other nation to; North Korea fields athletes in the Olympics and we allow brutal, theocratic dictatorships like Saudi Arabia to not only be in the U.N. but preposterously serve on the Commission on the Status of Women. Their associated movement in some parts of the academy, The U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, is even more problematic. Boycotting government grants of academic events supported by the Israeli state is an absurd way to protest, as if stopping research into, say, Mediterranean wildlife will bring down the Gaza wall. And while the organization says they do not want to ostracize individual academics on account of national origin, they have said on their website that their policies may stop Israeli academics from participating in the larger community, and people setting up academic organizations and events may want to “consider” if Israeli academics really need to participate. In other words, we don’t officially endorse discrimination, but we certainly don’t mind if you do.

I want to be clear that I am in no way accusing S.J.P. of anti-semitism. It’s a charge that gets tossed around far too much in this debate. And I am outraged as much as anyone about the bulldozing of Palestinian homes, the harassment of Palestinian citizens, and the fearmongering and regressive rhetoric of Netanyahu. But the larger movement associated with these actions certainly gets pretty close to the line. And recent events in my home state are concerning. At schools like U.C.L.A., S.F. State, and Cal, as reported by The New York Times, Haaretz, and The Jerusalem Post,  students were excluded from sitting on disciplinary boards because they were Jewish and schools invited speakers who advocated for terroristic violence. Thankfully, Swarthmore seems far from getting to that point. However, the demonization of Israel over basically all other countries, the obscuration of facts on the ground, and the hardline views of B.D.S. hold very little to be commended. And the expectation for Swarthmore, a supposedly non-sectarian and liberal-arts school, to declare that disagreeing with the goals of B.D.S. is morally and intellectually indefensible seems beyond reason.

SJP Sabra Boycott Gains Traction

in News by

On Wednesday, Swarthmore Students for Justice in Palestine held a rally in Parrish Parlors with the aim of halting the sale of Sabra Hummus on campus. The rally, which followed a petition that garnered over 500 signatures, has attracted national attention from news sources like Fox News and has even been targeted by members outside of the Swarthmore community through Facebook advertisements.

The boycott of Sabra Hummus is a part of S.J.P.’s broader objective to utilize boycott tactics to help end Israeli occupation. S.J.P. supports Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, a Palestinian-led movement against Israeli occupation, techniques to target companies that support Israel. The B.D.S. website states that it is a movement invested in “ending the occupation and colonization of Arab lands” and “recognizing the fundamental rights of Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel.”

According to an email sent out by Arunima Shiney-Ajay ’20 about the rally, the motivation for stopping the sale of Sabra Hummus on campus stems from the fact that Sabra Hummus is a joint venture between PepsiCo and the Strauss Group. An article published by The New York Times in 2010 found that the Strauss Group had formally endorsed the Israeli Defense Forces and the Golani Brigade, an Israeli Infantry brigade, on its official website. While the Strauss Group has removed their statement of support for the IDF and the Golani Brigade from its website, some speculate that ties between the groups remain.

“The Brigade has carried out countless human rights violations against Palestinians …  including arbitrary murders, assaults, detentions, home invasions, and arrests of children,” Shiney-Ajay and Killian McGinnis ’19 wrote in a recent Op-Ed for the Phoenix.

S.J.P.’s campaign against Sabra Hummus is not the first of its kind. In 2012, The Phoenix reported that S.J.P., known as S.P.J.P. at the time, was leading a boycott against Sabra Hummus.

The rally on Wednesday, which was attended by 100 students and faculty, began with Zaina Dana ’21 introducing the motivations behind the ban and the recent deaths of Palestinian protesters near the Gaza border on March 31.

According to an article from the BBC, at least 16 Palestinian protesters were killed by the I.D.F. during the protest. The protest, named the Great March of Return, is a six-week march to the border between Gaza and Israel. The primary demand of the protestors is for the return of Palestinian refugees to the state of Israel.

“Over the course of the day, I.D.F. soldiers killed 16 of my brothers and sisters and wounded hundreds more. The I.D.F. has openly admitted that they will meet nonviolent protest with violence,” Dana said. “We want to take a moment and remember why we are here today, this campaign is not just about hummus, it is about Swarthmore being complicit in the ongoing occupation of Palestine.”

Leaders of the rally held a moment of silence for those who died on the Gaza strip before S.J.P. members, Abby Saul ’19 and Gabi Rubinstein ’20, discussed the idea that Jewish liberation did not signify Palestinian oppression.

“We recognize, as proud Jews, that liberation is a key part of our Judaism, and we cannot talk about our liberation or our exodus from Egypt without talking about the liberation of all peoples,” Saul said. “We cannot spend another Passover talking about our personal liberation without talking about what’s happening in Israel and Palestine.”

Saul announced that shortly after the rally, a meeting would be held between members of S.J.P., President Valerie Smith, and Vice President of Finance Greg Brown to discuss plans for a halt on the sale of Sabra Hummus on campus. Sabra Hummus is still currently being sold on campus at Science Center Coffee Bar, Kohlberg Cafe, and Essie Mae’s. Linda McDougall, director of dining services, has not seen a change in the sales of Sabra Hummus in the past few months. According to Saul, President Smith was hesitant to make any public statements about the removal of Sabra Hummus from campus but wanted personally to look more into the matter.

“We [S.J.P.] talked about the demands of the community and why we were there. It’s not just about hummus or Sabra, but at the time we were there, we really wanted to reiterate the urgency of the situation due to the massacre that had happened just five days previously in Gaza,” Saul said. “Even though we made it clear that the community needed a concrete answer, President Smith was reluctant to do so. She wanted to do some more research on her own and did not want to drag out the decision, and she recognizes the impassioned response from the community.”

Austin Yanez ’21 decided to attend the rally on a whim but was glad he did so, because he believes it brought attention to an otherwise little known issue.

“I didn’t know about [Sabra’s] contributions to Israel until I came here. I don’t blame Swarthmore for selling their products, as I myself was also ignorant of the actions of their company,” Yanez said. “But I believe that now that students have brought this issue to light, the administration has a responsibility to act.”

The movement started with an online petition that garnered over 500 signatures from both students and faculty. Other student groups on campus, such as the Swarthmore Indigenous Students Association, Swarthmore Queer Union and Swarthmore African-American Student Society, have expressed their backing for the campaign with letters of support.  

The campaign has also garnered national attention from Fox News and The Blaze, which have published stories such as “Pro-Palestine students petition college to ban Sabra hummus from campus” and “Pro-Palestinian student group wants college to ban hummus brand over Israel ties. Yes, hummus.”

Recently, advertisements that target the S.J.P. Sabra Hummus campaign have appeared on Swarthmore students’ Facebook feeds. “Do you like hummus? Do you think Swarthmore students should have better things to do than try and ruin your lunch?” the advertisement asks.

While the origin of these advertisements remains unknown, Saul believes that these advertisements are not sponsored by someone in the Swarthmore community but by pro-Israel groups outside of the community.

“We don’t have a lot of information on it, but we believe that it’s someone outside the community who supports Israel at any cost. We think it’s a group that has had the domain for a while and has changed the name of the college depending on what college has launched campaigns,” Saul said. “We’re also keeping an eye on it, and we think it’s very interesting that someone outside that community is that concerned about what’s happening.”

Swarthmore Students for Israel have denounced the campaign against Sabra Hummus due to their belief that B.D.S. is a discriminatory movement.

“The rally was illustrative of the general tendency for S.J.P. to present extremely un-nuanced points of view on the conflict which lead people to support one-sided ‘solutions’ like B.D.S. B.D.S. is a discriminatory movement which shuts down dialogue and only moves us further from peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” Matt Stein ’20, the president of SSFI, said in an email to The Phoenix. “Sabra is being targeted simply for being Israeli, which is completely wrong, and we should not stop serving it on this campus. No one is forcing any students to purchase this product, but the decision to do so should not be taken away from individual students.”

According to the B.D.S. website, boycott campaigns “target the Israeli state because of its responsibility for serious violations of international law and the companies and institutions that participate in and are complicit in these Israeli violations. The B.D.S. movement does not boycott or campaign against any individual or group simply because they are Israeli.”

Saul notes that S.J.P. is willing to opening communication between S.J.P. and S.S.F.I. but believes that it should be done so in the correct environment.

Recently, a member of Swarthmore Students for Israel approached S.J.P., at an open meeting focused on the Boycott Sabra Campaign, to learn more about Israeli occupation.

“[S.J.P.] does think dialogue is important,” Saul said. “We had members of S.J.P. schedule a meal with that individual to talk. We think that this campaign has opened dialogue on campus, but we want to make sure S.J.P. is taking concrete actions and we’re not just lost in dialogue.”

Stein also expressed reservations about creating a dialogue between the two groups but is open to the idea of it.

“As for our relationship with S.J.P., we are not opposed to having a relationship with any campus groups, but it is quite difficult to have a working relationship with a group that denies your right to exist. National S.J.P. does not recognize the right for the Jews to have their own state in their homeland, and B.D.S. is a movement which seeks to end Jewish sovereignty in Israel,” Stein said in the email. “We are open to balanced dialogue but wish to have that dialogue in a setting that at an absolute minimum accepts the most basic right, the right [of Israel] to exist.”

Though the status of Sabra hummus on campus remains unclear, Saul looks forward to SJP’s future activism and hosted events.

“We’re really excited about engaging the student body and the community and making people aware that this is not just about our campus,f but that atrocities are happening daily [in Israel and Palestine].”

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