Boycott, deception, sanctions

Boycott, deception, sanctions

Sabra hummus is made in Astoria, Queens, but its half-owner is the Strauss Group, Israel’s food and beverages giant. Strauss is to Israel what a company like Kraft is here: ubiquitous and invisible at the same time, a national symbol of consumer and corporate culture.

And just as Kraft donates food to soldiers in Iraq and sends its Oscar Mayer Wienermobile to U.S. military bases, Strauss also supports its troops, as you might expect from an Israeli company. Its website currently says that it contributes to the “men and women who serve in the Golani brigade.” Their donations provide “pocket money for underprivileged soldiers, sports and recreational equipment, care packages, and books and games for the soldiers’ club. Yotvata, our dairy in the south, contributes likewise to the southern Shualei Shimshon unit.”

This week Princeton University students were to vote on a referendum that would ultimately link care packages to war crimes. Backers of the referendum want campus dining services to provide an alternative to Sabra hummus in university retail locations. The referendum, sponsored by the Princeton Committee on Palestine, was inspired by Philly BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanctions). Philly BDS is targeting Sabra because of Strauss’s “close ties to the Israeli military through its support of the brutal and repressive Golani Brigade, which has gained a reputation as an aggressive combat unit that routinely violates human rights and international law standards.”

That the hummus “boycott” has gotten more attention than the usual BDS action has everything to do with the product itself. Hummus strikes reporters as a little silly, and the national outlets that covered the controversy couldn’t resist puns about dips and spreads. (Philly BDS joined the fun, chanting “No justice, no chickpeas” during its protests.) Hummus is also symbolic of Israel itself, if not the entire Mideast conflict. Lebanon has accused Israel of usurping its “national dish,” and Arab and Israeli chefs have been competing to create the largest batch.

The name “Sabra” doesn’t hurt either.

The temptation, then, is to treat the Princeton story as a novelty item. But that impulse seemed to worry leaders at the Center for Jewish Life at Princeton, who understand what’s at stake. They sent out an e-mail warning students that they “may not fully understand the political motivations behind the referendum.” Passage of the referendum, it warned, “would allow the referendum’s sponsors to make a strong political statement about Israel.”

Exactly what the statement is is a matter of some confusion — and gets to the fatal flaw and moral hypocrisy of the BDS movement.

Yoel Bitran, the Chilean-Jewish student who is president of PCP, calls the message of the referendum “straightforward.”

“We support Israel’s right to exist, we support the right of Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace and security in their own country, and we call on Israel to end its illegal and immoral occupation of Palestinian territories,” he wrote in the campus newspaper. “We believe that only through international pressure will Israelis be able to make the difficult decisions that will ensure Israel’s long-term existence.”

I suppose if I knew nothing about the BDS movement and assumed their spokespeople all spoke like Bitran, I might have, if not sympathy, then some appreciation for their campaign. If their goal is justice for the Palestinians and a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and if they believe the IDF stands in the way of those goals, perhaps they’d be justified in shunning a company that provides those soldiers moral and material support.

But make no mistake: Members of Philly BDS, which initiated the Sabra boycott, are not peaceniks, by any means. According to their website, they support boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel until it “complies with international law by ending its occupation of Palestine lands, dismantling the ‘separation barrier’ in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, granting full and equal rights to Palestinian citizens of Israel, and recognizing the right of exiled Palestinians to return to their country.”

Notice that last line: “recognizing the right of exiled Palestinians to return to their country.” Not “their homes” or “their property.” Philly BDS, like nearly all the leaders of their movement, supports a one-state solution — one Palestinian entity, from the Mediterranean to the Jordan. Under their plan, the Palestinians get the West Bank, Gaza, and full citizenship within any portion of Israel to which they can establish a legal claim.

The “right of return” is a nonstarter when it comes to making peace, and not just because it will inevitably mean the demographic and symbolic end of a Jewish state. The “right of return” undermines the essential assumptions of those seeking peace on both sides: to create two states, side by side, and the separation that will allow each people to flourish without interference from the other.

And it’s no great leap to surmise that a group that opposes care packages and pocket money for Israeli soldiers rejects Israel’s right to defend itself.

Maybe Princeton students will want to send a message to Israel that it should be more flexible at the negotiating table. But, Bitran’s assurances notwithstanding, they’ll be doing so at the behest of a movement that wants Israel to disappear.

How’s that taste?

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