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Nov 21, 2010

The Hummus Wars Hit America

The hummus wars have hit the shores of America, and are no longer confined to disputes between Israel and Lebanon, or elsewhere in the Middle East.

The stores on the Princeton Campus, Dining Services, carries the Sabra brand of hummus. The Princeton Committee on Palestine is fighting to have an alternative line of hummus carried in the retail stores.
The Princeton Committee on Palestine has sponsored a referendum in next week’s USG elections that asks Dining Services to sell an alternative to Sabra hummus in all its retail locations on campus.
The Strauss Group and PepsiCo each own 50 percent of Sabra Dipping Company.

In August, Philly Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, a Philadelphia group that encourages activism against Israel, released an open letter calling for a boycott of Sabra for the same reason.

Both PCP and Philly BDS take issue with The Strauss Group’s support of the Israeli Golani Brigade. Members of the Brigade have been reprimanded by the Israeli military for inappropriate behavior.

The brigade has “a culture of aggression,” Yoel Bitran ’11, president of PCP, adding in an e-mail.

Strauss is Israel’s second-largest food and beverage company. It provides care packages and sports equipment to Israeli soldiers as part of its corporate social responsibility program, Sabra representative Ilya Welfeld said in an e-mail.

PCP started a petition in support of the referendum last Thursday. More than 200 students have signed it, the threshold for getting a referendum on the ballot.

“The Princeton Committee on Palestine objects to the fact that Sabra is the only hummus brand that is offered in most University stores and that students who wish to eat this traditional Arab food are forced to buy a product that is connected to human rights abuses against Arab civilians,” Bitran wrote in a statement concerning the issue.

“This lack of choice is particularly egregious and violent for Princetonians of Arab descent, who cannot eat the food that is quintessential to their culture unless they are willing to support crimes against their own people,” the statement continued.

Bitran also created a “Boycott Sabra Hummus” event that had 129 people listed as attending as of Thursday evening.

In response, officers of Tigers for Israel created their own event on Facebook, titled “Save the Hummus!--Vote Against the Sabra Hummus Boycott.” It had 1,878 people listed as attending as of Thursday evening.

If a majority of students vote in favor of the referendum, the USG will inform Dining Services, USG president Michael Yaroshefsky ’12 said in an e-mail.

Many students said that they were confused about the referendum’s implications because of its ambiguous language.

“Does ‘offer an alternative to’ mean an ‘alternative in addition to’ or ‘instead of’ Sabra?” asked Addie Lerner ’11, a vice president of Tigers For Israel.

“We’re all for consumer choice and multiple brands sold alongside Sabra, but we’re against a boycott and singling out Sabra for being an Israeli company affiliated with the IDF,” she said.

Lerner and Sammy Schatz ’13, the other vice president of TFI, said that products integral to the lives of students — including Firestone Library’s database technology and Microsoft software — are made by companies with ties to Israel.

Firestone’s library database uses the country’s technology, Schatz said, and Lerner added that Victoria’s Secret cotton is grown in Israel.

“If we want to get into this … situation where we’re talking about all the products that are linked to Israel and how we shouldn’t sell them because by buying them you’re propagating human rights violations — that’s just ridiculous,” Schatz said.

Abby Klionsky ’14 said she found the referendum’s language at odds with PCP’s rhetoric. “The Facebook group, posters and petition clearly state that PCP’s aim is to boycott Sabra hummus,” she said in an e-mail.

“I have a sneaking suspicion that this referendum is not about having multiple options of hummus to buy as a consumer option, but rather make the process of boycotting Sabra hummus easier,” she added.

When asked about confusion over the referendum, Bitran said that it would be up to Dining Services to either replace Sabra or introduce other brands.

The University has been stocking Sabra for the last four or five years based on “customer preferences” and “current industry needs,” Stu Orefice, director of Dining Services, said in an e-mail.

“We have suggested the PCP set up a table at Frist with information and alternative products so that the community can taste different products and understand the cost differences,” Orefice added.

In regard to whether Dining Services would consider boycotting Sabra, Orefice said that it was “premature to speculate at this point.”

The hummus served in the dining halls and the Center for Jewish Life is prepared at the University. Olive’s Restaurant, located on Witherspoon Street, also sells containers of hummus, including at the U-Store.


  1. Although the standard "Microsoft" argument was raised here, I think the PCP did a good job to avoid it. Their position wasn't, "let's boycott Israel" (it may have been their motivation, but they didn't come out and say it). It was, "we want to eat a culturally important food [hummus, let's face it, is not a Jewish invention], but the only way to do it is to do something which is a cultural anathema [i.e., indirectly supporting the IDF; even the most pro-IDF person has to admit that it would be weird, at the very least, for an Arab to want to support them]".

    It's a good tactic, and one which anticipates one of the standard pro-Israel arguments in the face of a boycott.

    The Tigers for Israel should take note of this and formulate a better response.

  2. Someone needs to drop a nuclear chickpea on their heads. Boycotting morons.

  3. hummus, let's face it, is not a Jewish invention

    Pre-Israeli hummus was eaten, for the most part, in countries that had Jews. No?

  4. Then there's the DePaul situation:


  5. Supposedly the boycotters are upset at Sabra's IDF and Golani brigade connections, which looks like a great opportunity for an Israeli start-up to market hummus made by a different Israeli company to American college cafeterias. It can be presented as a "win-win": protesters get what they say they want, while others continue to have the satisfaction of supporting Israel when they eat hummus.

    Of course, the real purpose of the boycott is as a vehicle for anti-Israel propaganda, but if it is cloaked in concern for human rights and the behavior of one Israeli company, why not take them at their word as a judo move? The alternative supplier need not have "leftist" or pro-Palestinian connections, just be a different company. [Ideally it would be located in a Jewish West Bank settlement and employ a 50% Arab work force. :)]

  6. Pre-Israeli hummus was eaten, for the most part, in countries that had Jews. No?

    Possibly, but irrelevant. Most countries in the Middle East had Jews in them pre-Israel. There were Jews in America in the 1870s. That doesn't mean we invented the phonograph.

    Hummus is a traditional Middle-Eastern food, not specifically connected with the Jewish population there. Thus, the PCP's claim that Hummus is culturally important to them is legitimate and not a form of co-opting.

  7. There were Jews in America in the 1870s. That doesn't mean we invented the phonograph.

    We know who invented the phonograph. I don't think we know who invented hummus. Jews naturally contributed to the culture of the phonograph. They didn't appropriate it from non-Jews.

    Hummus is a traditional Middle-Eastern food, not specifically connected with the Jewish population there.

    I don't know that it is "specifically connected" to anyone, beyond being a Middle Eastern food. If Palestinians are claiming that it is "specifically connected" or "culturally important" or some such to them, doesn't that imply that Jews or Israelis have a less authentic claim to it? What if current trends in Turkey lead to increasing military ties between Israel and Greece? Palestinian students will have a right to complain about the sale of Athenos hummus?


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