Michael Riordon

the view from where I live

Sneak attack: new Sabra hummus ad

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Sabra hummus, widely sold in food stores, is the target of a growing boycott movement due to its notorious financial support of two Israeli army brigades responsible for war crimes and illegal occupation over many years.

On the Electronic Intifada*, editor Ali Abunimah reported this week that the Strauss Group, the company that makes Sabra hummus, is trying a new tactic to combat the boycott.

* (Founded in 2001, the Electronic Intifada is an excellent online source of news and analysis that focuses on Palestine, its people, politics, culture and place in the world.)

A reader wrote to Electronic Intifada after seeing a new ad for Sabra hummus on a children’s cable channel in the United States:

“On Nick Jr. this morning they had a commercial with hijabi women [Muslim women wearing a head covering] in it and I was excited to see that!  They showed some other multicultural people (I remember a rastafarian looking group) and back to the Muslims weighing chickpeas etc.  Everyone gathers at a huge table in a beautiful field and they reveal the commercial is for Sabra hummus.”

The 30-second ad, called ‘Sabra World Table,’ opens with a young, blonde woman ringing a bell outside a beautiful suburban home – this presumably is the person with whom the ad viewer is supposed to identify.

An Arab woman in a far-away market place hears the bell and is summoned to action, rather like a genie hearing the call of its master.  The marketplace looks strikingly like the markets of Hebron or the Old City of Jerusalem, which Israel has invaded, settled and done its best to place off limits to indigenous Palestinian inhabitants, merchants and customers.

Then another man, who looks like a character from Fiddler on the Roof, hears the bell in what appears to be a caricature of an east European shtetl [historically, a village or small town with a large Jewish population in Central or Eastern Europe], and improbably lifts up a basket of olives.

Other “colorful” ethnic characters – including Africans and Asians – leap into action at the sound of the white woman’s bell and bring “the fresh flavors of the world” to her suburban backyard.

Reading between the lines/images, this ad:

  • makes no mention of Israel, where the Strauss Group financially supports the Givati and Golani brigades of the Israeli army.
  • The ad depicts hummus, Sabra’s main product, as simultaneously “ethnic” and exotic but at the same time not belonging to any specific culture.  This continues Israel’s attempts to appropriate Arab foods, including hummus, falafel, maftoul (“Israeli coucous”) and most recently Palestine’s traditional olive oil culture and production,  and to erase their origins.
  • The linking of Sabra hummus with a happy feast of people from diverse backgrounds is grossly inconguous with the reality of escalating racism against Africans in Israel, and the continued ethnic cleansing of Palestinians whose traditional ways of life the ad both caricatures and purports to celebrate.

Ironically, the appearance of the new ad strongly suggests that the growing movement to boycott Sabra is having an impact.

Students all over the US have raised awareness about Sabra’s support for the Israeli army.  In May last year, for example, students at Chicago’s DePaul University voted by a huge margin to ban Sabra hummus.

Most recently, Illinois high school student Nadine Darwish wrote about her successful effort to have her school offer an ethical alternative to Sabra-brand hummus.  It’s an inspiring story about overcoming fear and taking principled action.

There are alternatives to Sabra: Make your own.  Buy local brands.  It’s a small thing to do, but better than nothing.  And it will leave a better taste in the mouth.

Author: Michael Riordon

Canadian writer and documentary-maker Michael Riordon writes/ directs/produces books and articles, audio, video and film documentaries, plays for radio and stage. A primary goal of his work is to recover voices and stories of people who have been silenced or marginalized, written out of the official version: First Nations (aboriginal) youth, Mozambican farmers, inmates in Canadian prisons, traditional healers in Fiji, queer folk across Canada, Guatemalan labour activists. Michael also leads courses, workshops and seminars for community organizations, trade unions, schools, colleges and universities.

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