The Jewish Chronicle of Pittsburgh first reported this Palestinian gastro-political imbroglio story a week ago: “The Conflict Kitchen (a Pittsburgh based federally funded public art project / restaurant) …served up a discussion Tuesday afternoon billed as focusing on ‘current events in Palestine,’ but quickly shifted to wholesale condemnation of Israel.” Conflict Kitchen’s materials, speakers and planned activities all add up to the creation of a publicly funded anti-Israel epicenter for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement in the middle of Pittsburgh’s academic community.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh was targeted by a major city newspaper’s editorial board, a well-known culinary blog and various anti-Zionist personalities on Twitter for statements it made opposing the project’s anti-Israel political agenda. Contrary to these media reports, the Jewish Federation’s objection is to the literature and events made available to Conflict Kitchen customers, not their choice of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as their current culinary-political iteration. Before reading on and passing judgment; survey Conflict Kitchen’s publication provided with every meal. After finishing, ask: Do you have a problem with the statements made in this pamphlet?
If your mission is to comingle cuisine and politics, how can one mention Palestinian hummus without mentioning the Palestinian Hamas? Conflict Kitchen’s prejudiced message and hand-outs, exclusionary practices and unsubstantiated charges against Israelis and Israel undercut the need for free, robust and unbiased academic discussions around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. University of Pittsburgh students’ calls for balance and an end to incitement have fallen on deaf ears. Some outlandish accusations that highlight the current one sided, inaccurate portrayal of the conflict contained in their literature include:
- The outrageous claim that the Israeli Army threatens to “shoot the tires out” of any trucks that deliver water to Palestinians.
- The false statement that “Israel doesn’t want any non-Jews to become citizens.” This offer was given to all residents of East Jerusalem and almost categorically rejected.
- The libelous fallacy that Israel, “essentially picked the leaders of the PA, because everyone who wasn’t corrupt and was fit to lead the PA had either been assassinated, imprisoned or was in exile.”
The material that Conflict Kitchen distributes not only attributes all Palestinian suffering to Israel and the United States, it also presents personal opinions/anecdotes/hearsay as fact to manipulate under-informed Americans. The pamphlet presents the Palestinian people as a whole as liberal, progressive, and passive, while completely erasing the countless acts of terrorism, fundamentalist religiosity and incitement adhered to by many Palestinian terrorist groups.
The idea that “Occupied Palestinian Territory” is a country that the US is in conflict with paints a distorted and offensive narrative that ignores consistent American efforts over the past 30 years to end the conflict and empower and unite the Palestinian people. Furthermore, Conflict Kitchen paints Israelis as deeply and comprehensively hateful toward Palestinians, while ignoring the deep ideological diversity among the Israeli people and the enormous efforts by both government officials and private citizens in the past and present to bring about positive change and eventual independence in the territories, and ameliorate Palestinian society.
Conflict Kitchen’s publications and programs give zero context to the source of the conflict, the complexity of finding a resolution, Palestinian refusal to negotiate and the strong Hamas support for not only ending occupation through violent means (“resistance”) but the destruction of Israel proper as well. It implies apartheid, explicitly charges collective punishment and makes disappear the genocidal tendencies of more extreme Palestinian ideologies.
The Kitchen’s guest speakers have deliberately denigrated Israeli ethnic and national identity through their explicit and divisive hate speech. One speaker, Professor Ken Boas, chair of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions-USA, openly called on his colleagues at the lunch to support the academic boycott against Israel and presented false truths about Arab Israeli participation in Israeli institutions, “such as the lie that non-Jews are not allowed to serve in the Israeli army.” These Druze, Bedouins and other Israeli Arabs would disagree with him.
One lunch included Laila el-Haddad, who openly calls for boycotting Israeli food products. Students for Justice in Palestine and the Pittsburgh Palestine Solidarity Committee, future programmatic partners, are two anti-peace organizations that demonize Jews and Israel supporters on campus with their harmful rhetoric and aggressive propaganda campaigns. These events are political, not educational, in nature.
The Conflict Kitchen’s director, Professor Jon Rubin, has explicitly stated that he does not see the rationale for inviting Israeli affinity groups (beyond those on the fringe) or members of Pittsburgh’s organized Jewish community to his table. Every wrapper that the Kitchen distributes with its meals is an unfounded indictment against Israel, Israelis and the Jewish diaspora that supports it. There are individuals who support peace and those that support continuing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The toxic menu at Conflict Kitchen leaves a bitter taste in the palate of pursuers of peace.
By Skip Grinberg, Chair, and Gregg Roman, Director, of the Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh