Sunday, January 08, 2023


Palestinian Arabs falsely complaining that Israeli Jews are "culturally appropriating" their cuisine have become so common that they are almost a cliche. 

But at least some of these accusations cross the line from absurd into antisemitism.

Here's an article this past weekend from L'Orient Today by Emmanuel Haddad:
After hummus, falafel and so many other flagship dishes of Palestinian and Levantine cuisine, knefeh nabulsi is the latest victim of appropriation by Israel.

This delicious dessert, which originated in Nablus and is named after the main ingredient — nabulsi cheese — has been incorporated into a more-than-dubious recipe developed by Pizza Hut Israel.

For Palestinian chef Fadi Kattan, the affront is threefold: "First against the knefeh, then against pizza... And then, against the taste!"

The flavor is as off-putting as it is bitter for Salma Serry, historian of Near Eastern cuisine. The Israeli pizza-knefeh fits perfectly into the definition of appropriation she offers on Sufra Kitchen, the online platform she created to decolonize regional cuisines:

"Appropriation [is the] inappropriate adoption of a group's food without giving it credit, especially for commercial gain. Example: Israeli restaurants profiting from falafel, knefeh or hummus without mentioning their original culture."
The word "inappropriate" in that definition does some heavy lifting here. The USA has lots of restaurants that serve pizza or tacos; is it cultural appropriation to mention them without the prefixes "Italian" or "Mexican?" Apparently, only in Israel, and only for Jews, is cooking food from surrounding countries considered a crime without mentioning their origin - and in the case of foods from Arab countries, the origin in often murky and hardly ever "Palestinian. "

The Israeli Pizza Hut chain never once claimed that "knafeh pizza" is an Israeli food. On the contrary, when they introduced the dish last month, their press release said, “Pizza Hut recognized the unrealized potential of this irresistible Middle Eastern food, and decided to make its own version.” 

And Pizza Hut is not calling it "knafeh" but "knafeh pizza." It is a (perhaps bizarre) combination of the two, but no one claims it is authentic knafeh - or authentic pizza, for that matter. 

The article goes on:
Salma Serry says she often hears denials of this culinary appropriation, defended as the natural spread of cuisine among different communities.

"Of course, food is meant to be shared. But when there is active violence that takes away a group's cultural identity and denies its heritage, its land and the food it produces while manipulating its history, then it becomes problematic,” she said. “In the specific case of Palestine, it's not about sharing; it's about taking and not giving back."
This is simply not true. Israeli chefs and cookbook writers happily describe where Israeli cuisine comes from. No one is "stealing" anything. Read Janna Gur's "A Short Introduction to Israeli Food" preface to her cookbook Shuk where she concisely describes the Israeli food scene's influences, from dozens of ethnic cultures in the Israeli melting pot but also from the neighboring Palestinians. Yes, sometimes non-experts will lazily say that some Arab dishes are Israeli, but they mean that they are popular in Israel: no one says that they originate there, unless they really do, as in the case of falafel in pita.  Similarly, there was much angst when Haaretz once said that shawarma is "Israeli street food" - yet it is, just as much ss pizza is American street food.

Here's a 1949 advertisement for a Tel Aviv restaurant selling "oriental food."


No Israeli ever claimed hummus was natively Israeli.

The real irony is that Palestinians are the ones who have culturally appropriated Middle East foods. They really have claimed to have invented most popular Levantine foods like hummus and falafel, and here they claim to have created knafeh. They may have invented knafeh nabulsi, which uses cheese made in Nablus, but knafeh itself has much murkier origins.

Why does no one accuse Palestinians of cultural appropriation for claiming foods that were invented elsewhere? 

Because they are not Jews. 

There are two reasons that articles like this descend from simple lies into antisemitism. 

One is that they are saying that while every nation's cuisine is an amalgam from many places, only Israeli Jews are accused of "theft" - even though Israeli foodies freely admit and eagerly explain where all their dishes originate.

The other is that these articles deny the or even existence of Mizrahi Jews on the Israeli food scene, even though they are the primary source.

The L'Orient article includes this falsehood:
For chef Kattan, the case of hummus is emblematic of the broader problem:

"It was the very first dish appropriated by the Israelis as early as 1948. Originally, the Zionist project was marked by European-style colonialism that denied the Arabness of Palestine and its land. But when they went to eat at the homes of Palestinians who survived the Nakba — during which 580 Palestinian villages were razed to the ground — they said to themselves, ‘This chickpea puree is not bad!’”
Jews in the Middle East have been eating hummus for centuries. This is a Palestinian chef erasing hundreds of years of Jewish history, and claiming that Jews have no right to be in the region. 

Here is a Palestine Post article about the popularity of falafel among Palestinian Jews in 1940 - and it interestingly describes the uniquely Israeli version of falafel in pita even then. The writer interviews a Jew who was born in Yemen, went to Egypt and brought his falafel skills to Jerusalem's Ben Yehuda Street.




These articles invariably downplay the role of Mizrahi Jews in bringing with them the bulk of what is now called Israeli cuisine.

Yes, that is antisemitism. 




Buy the EoZ book, PROTOCOLS: Exposing Modern Antisemitism  today at Amazon!

Or order from your favorite bookseller, using ISBN 9798985708424. 

Read all about it here!

 

 



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