Food is something that brings us together. It nourishes our souls, excites our tastebuds, and creates memories that stay with us for a lifetime. However, The New York Times cynically chose to weaponize food, promoting a new food fight of diminishing returns through Aina J. Khan’s recent article “Preserving a Palestinian Identity in the Kitchen.”
According to Khan’s article, Israel and Israelis have no right to sell hummus and falafel as it appropriates Palestinian cuisine. Can you imagine Italy calling on New York to stop selling 99c pizza slices or Mexico trying to shut down Southern California’s taco food trucks?
The irony is, if there’s one dish that has the potential to – and does – bring Israelis and Palestinians together around a table, it’s hummus. And Jewish National Fund-USA and the people of Israel know it. We see it every day in the initiatives we support. From the Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian scientists achieving technological breakthroughs in the Arava that solve environmental challenges affecting the entire region to the Druze and Jewish tour operators working with our Western Galilee Now Tourist Information Center to share their respective heritages with the world, food breaks down divides and fosters understanding.
We don’t need more food fights in this region, as The New York Times seeks to stoke. For too long, the Middle East was defined by conflict – it doesn’t need another hyper-politicized journalist creating further divisions over who has the ‘rights’ to hummus and falafel.
We believe in the power of food to be an avenue for peaceful conversation, the sharing of traditions and culture, and facilitating education and bonding, and yes, even business and job opportunities.
That is why we are building the Galilee Culinary Institute by JNF in the Greater Kiryat Shmona area of Israel. It will be one of the finest culinary institutes in the world because our mission is not only to create great chefs who will learn business, marketing, and of course, cooking. It will also teach about the cultures and traditions of 82 different nationalities that make up the land and People of Israel. Nowhere else in the world will you be able to learn Yemenite, Moroccan, Ethiopian, Tunisian, Polish, Mexican, Russian, American, Druze, Bedouin, Lebanese, and Turkish cooking, just to name a few. Our objective is not only to create great chefs; we dream of bringing Palestinian, Israeli, Lebanese, Syrian, Iranian, and American chefs into one kitchen, working and learning together and teaching each other about their heritage and cultures.
This isn’t about negating anyone’s culinary heritage or asserting exclusive ownership over a specific dish. It’s about defending food’s positive impact on bringing people together and opposing those seeking to find yet another way to delegitimize Israel.
The New York Times may want a food fight. Yet, at our table, one representing Israel’s rich melting pot of cultures, the only thing you’ll see us fighting over is who gets the last falafel!
Russell F. Robinson is CEO of Jewish National Fund-USA.