On March 3, 2018, Students for Justice in Palestine launched a petition to end the sale of Sabra products on campus. Within days of launching, over 500 students and other community members had signed. Today, three weeks after the initial launch, the number of signatures continues to rise.
We are calling on the college to end its sale of Sabra products because of the company’s documented ties to human rights violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Sabra Hummus is a joint venture between PepsiCo and the Strauss Group, a multinational corporation and Israel’s largest food and beverage company. The Strauss Group materially supports and sends care packages to the Golani Brigade of the Israel Defense Forces, a fact that was once stated on the company’s website but has since been removed due to pressure from pro-Palestine groups. Even by the abysmal human rights standards of the IDF, the Golani Brigade is particularly brutal: since its inception, the Brigade has carried out countless human rights violations against Palestinians — particularly in Hebron and in the siege on Gaza (Operation Cast Lead) from 2008-2009 — including arbitrary murders, assaults, detentions, home invasions, and arrests of children. Furthermore, the Brigade’s role as an occupying force violates international law: Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and its 1967 annexation of East Jerusalem are all illegal according to the United Nations. For many Palestinians, including Palestinian students at Swarthmore, the Occupation is a painful and constant reality.
The campaign to boycott Sabra at Swarthmore is situated within a broader international movement to hold Israel accountable for human rights abuses and abolish its “three-tiered system of oppression: colonialism, occupation, and apartheid.” In 2005, Palestinian civil society called for the boycott of, divestment from, and sanctions of Israeli state institutions as a nonviolent strategy to pressure Israel to comply with international law and universal principles of human rights. Modeled after the successful South African anti-apartheid campaigns of the last century, the BDS movement aims to highlight the immoral and illegal occupation of Palestinian land, and to stigmatize the many human rights violations that continue to be an everyday reality for many Palestinians. Since 2005, dozens of companies, university student governments, workers’ unions, churches, and other organizations have publicly joined the BDS campaign by changing their institutional policy and practice to adhere to its goals. Prominent artists and academics — including singer Lorde and gender theorist Judith Butler — have also engaged in the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, which similarly calls on members of the international community to refuse to attend academic and cultural events supported by state funding from Israel.
At Swarthmore, this effort isn’t a new one. In 2012, SJP, then Students for Peace and Justice in Palestine, first launched a campaign to boycott Sabra. Initially, the group’s requests were denied, given the reservations of the vice president of the office of facilities and services about boycotts as effective strategies for change. This position contradicted the 1989 Board of Managers’ decision to divest from South African apartheid and the college’s decision in 2006 to boycott Coke as part of a larger national campaign. Drawing on Swarthmore’s commitment to social responsibility and our history of engaging in principled boycotts, SJP continued to advocate for the boycott, and after a few months, Sabra hummus disappeared from campus shelves. Tired of controversy, it seemed, the college had quietly removed the products in response to the community’s demands.
But today, Sabra products are back, sold as hummus and guacamole packets at Essie Mae’s and the coffee bars in Kohlberg and the Science Center. Since Swarthmore reinstated Sabra products after the SJP members involved in the original campaign graduated, the vast majority of our current community members are unaware of the group’s past activism — and its outcomes. Yet Swarthmore continues to profess its commitment to teaching students responsible citizenship, citing values of social and ethical concern. Thus, not only does the sale of Sabra products on campus contradict our professed values, but it is also inconsistent with our past practices.
Furthermore ending the sale of Sabra products would not be an inconvenience to our community; there are many alternatives to Sabra hummus available. For example, local, Philadelphia-made alternatives to Sabra hummus include Bobbi’s, Helen’s, Wakim’s, and Moshe’s.
Given the structure of the global economy in which corporations have the power to influence state actions, we cannot deny the political nature of our preferences as consumers. Especially given our college’s unique position as a private institution with significant political clout and financial agency, it is clear that stocking Sabra hummus is not just a question of chickpeas; rather, the choice reflects our community’s stance on defending human dignity. By providing resources to the Golani Brigade, the Strauss Group both endorses and normalizes the IDF’s brutal practices. By continuing to sell Sabra products, Swarthmore joins in that tacit endorsement. The continued sale of Sabra products on campus should be disturbing to every Swarthmore student who cares about human rights. This is not merely a question of brands, but about an immoral and illegal assault on Palestinian lives and dignity. It is a question of Swarthmore’s commitment to using its institutional power to intervene in situations of injustice: will we choose to affirm the fundamental human rights of all people, including the many Palestinians who have suffered at the hands of the Golani Brigade and continue to live under occupation? Or will we, again, stay silent?