(JTA) — Fights over Israel and the Palestinians on campus have taken place on quads across the country, in classrooms and, recently, in the halls of Congress.
This week, at Yale University, the debate moved to the dining hall. And from there, of course, to social media.
On Monday, sophomore Sahar Tartak posted on X, formerly Twitter, that a dish offered on campus named “Israeli couscous salad with spinach and tomatoes” had been renamed to remove the word “Israeli.” Her tweets on the change were shared thousands of times.
“Imagine returning to your dining hall to find that salad labels were renamed to remove mention of the salads being ‘Israeli,’” wrote Tartak, who has written in recent weeks about facing hostility on campus as a pro-Israel student. “That happened at Yale this week. It’s the subtle changes and redactions that are the most pernicious.”
The claim was amplified by Libs of TikTok, the massively popular right-wing social media account run by Chaya Raichik, who is Jewish, and who included images of the Israeli couscous salad label before and after the name change.
Whether the change had actually taken place, however, was unclear. The following day, Viktor Kagan, another student, shared an image of the salad bar on Dec. 12 that showed that the word “Israeli” had returned to the name of the dish, spurring allegations that the whole story had been made up.
Neither Kagan nor Tartak responded to JTA requests for comment. But it turns out they were both right. A representative from Yale’s office of communication told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that in July, Yale Hospitality, which oversees campus dining, decided to remove ethnic and geographical markers from food labels.
“Authenticity of the food and naming of the recipes have been a concern brought to us by students in the past. There were times that they felt our food did not ‘authentically’ represent the country or ethnicity referenced in the name,” the spokesperson said in an email. “To that end, our team made the decision to remove names of countries and ethnicities from recipes.”
But the statement added that because “Israeli couscous” is an ingredient in the dish at issue, it was an exception to the rule: The word “Israeli” had indeed been removed, but would be put back.
“In this case, Israeli Couscous is indeed an actual ingredient and is explicitly listed on the ingredient list,” the email said. “Considering it is the main ingredient, it is appropriate to remain in the title, and we will correct this oversight.”
The kerfuffle not only played into the heated debates over the Israel-Hamas war that have beset universities nationwide and led to the resignation of the president of the University of Pennsylvania, another Ivy League school. It also reflected how food — what it is called, and to whom it is credited — has long played into discussions of Israeli and Palestinian culture and history.
Nir Avieli, a cultural anthropologist at Israel’s Ben Gurion University who studies food, said debates over which foods are Israeli and Palestinian serve as a proxy for which people has a stronger claim to nationhood. That, in turn, ties into who should control the territory encompassing Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.
“When you deny Israel for the unique cuisine, you’re saying this is not a real culture. How could they have a cuisine? They are not a culture, they are not a people,” Avieli said. “This denial of the existence of Israeli cuisine is parallel to the denial of Palestinian cuisine by Israelis.”
“If a cuisine exists, it means that the culture exists,” he added. “It means that there is a people with a history, with terroir. And then if you deny the existence of these people, how can they have a cuisine?”
Those debates are especially charged on campus, he said, where students are used to spending their time discussing world affairs and see those conversations reflected in what dishes they choose in the dining hall.
“Food is politics. And you see why people get upset,” he said. “They go to lunch, they want to have a rest. They’ve been studying in classes, they’re doing political science, they’re debating. They are pro-Israel, they are anti-Israel, they are antisemitic, they are whatever they are. But when they go to lunch, they want to have a break. And they go and they want to have a break and then they get Israeli couscous and they get very upset. Because they get a political thorn on their side.”
For what it’s worth, Israeli couscous is not really couscous at all, in fact. In Israel, the dish is called “ptitim” and was an invention of the Osem company during the early 1950s, when Israeli food was rationed, at the behest of then-Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. Ptitim are a wheat-based rice substitute, extruded through a round mold and then cut and toasted. It is sometimes referred to as “Ben-Gurion’s rice” because its original shape was oblong and rice-like. Today, ptitim come in both oblong and pearl shapes.
Ptitim resembles a similar Palestinian dish called maftoul made from bulgur and wheat flour. It is also similar to an Eastern European Jewish egg noodle called farfel; a Sardinian semolina-based pasta called fregula and other foods.
“Nothing is original. Always things evolve. And they evolve in contact with other cultures,” Avieli said.
“One big mistake that people have with their perception of culture [is] that culture, and specifically food, is static, is my grandmother’s,” he added. “The whole idea of something being claimed to be pure and of a specific culture is completely wrong historically. But of course, it’s political.”
Ptitim didn’t even get the name “Israeli couscous” until 1993, when Israeli-born chef Mika Sharon, who worked in the kitchen of Tribeca Grill in New York, invited executive chef Don Pintabona home for dinner, and he took a bite of the ptitim Sharon served to her daughter. Pintabona soon added it to the menu at Tribeca Grill, serving it alongside seared sea bass and calling it “Israeli couscous.” The dish took off over the next decade, according to the publication Taste.
In recent years, it has been common for online discourse to veer into arguments over who really invented “Israeli salad,” or questions about whether hummus and falafel can be considered Israeli or Palestinian, or whether they are Egyptian or Jordanian or Syrian or Lebanese.
Avieli remarked that the war between Russia and Ukraine could also be bringing up parallel ethnic tensions when it comes to food. (Borscht is a classic example of a disputed food that Russians say is Russian and Ukrainians say is Ukrainian. Its English spelling, with a “t,” is attributed to the Yiddish pronunciation, which was brought to the United States by Ashkenazi Jews.)
He recalled watching on live television when a right-wing nationalist member of the Israeli Knesset, Rehavam Ze’evi, crossed off the word Arab in front of “Arab salad” on a restaurant menu, and wrote “Israeli” in its place.
In 2018, Virgin Atlantic removed the word “Palestinian” from an in-flight couscous salad that included a mix of maftoul and couscous, tomatoes, cucumber, parsley and mint after complaints from pro-Israel supporters who threatened to boycott the airline and accused Virgin Atlantic of being “terrorist sympathizers.” The name was changed to “couscous salad.”
“This battle over identity through food is something that is ongoing everywhere, not only here,” Avieli said.
The post Did Yale remove the word ‘Israeli’ from a campus couscous dish? Yes and no. appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Top Swiss Diplomat Appointed to Mediate Tensions Between Jewish Tourists, Businesses in Davos Ski Resort
The tourism authority in the exclusive Swiss mountain resort of Davos has appointed a top diplomat to mediate the growing tensions between local businesses and Orthodox Jewish visitors as complaints of antisemitism increase.
Michael Ambühl — the former State Secretary of Switzerland previously in charge of the country’s relationship with the European Union (EU) — will head a task force to tackle the problem, Swiss media outlets reported on Friday.
The announcement of Ambühl’s appointment comes just days after the resort was roiled by the refusal of a restaurant that operates a ski equipment rental store to provide services to Jewish guests.
A sign in Hebrew at the Pischa Restaurant in Davos stated that “due to various very annoying incidents, including the theft of a sledge, we no longer rent sports equipment to our Jewish brothers. This affects all sports equipment such as sledges, airboards, skis and snowshoes. Thank you for your understanding.”
Swiss police are currently investigating the incident as a possible case of discrimination. One Israeli tourist reported that he had visited the Pischa Restaurant where he “pretended not to understand Hebrew and asked if we could rent the equipment. After the woman consulted with the manager, she rejected our request.”
The tourism authority’s decision has irritated the country’s main Jewish representative body, the Swiss Israelite Association (SIG), which had been engaged in a separate dialog with the authority about accommodating Jewish guests that was abruptly closed down last year.
“The latest case shows that something is obviously wrong in Davos,” SIG General Secretary Jonathan Kreutner said in remarks quoted by the Blick news outlet.
Kreutner said that “comparable problems are not known from other holiday destinations, especially in those where our dialogue program is still active.” Kreutner acknowledged that the tourism authority “wants to take a new path, but we don’t yet know what it looks like and where it will lead.”
‘Israel Outright Rejects International Dictates’: Biden Creating Plan For Palestinian State, Netanyahu Pushes Back: Report
US President Joe Biden, along with a number of Arab states, are quickly working to form a plan to end the Israel-Hamas war and create a Palestinian state, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday, sparking pushback from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The first step of such a plan would be for Israel and Hamas to agree to a six-week ceasefire in exchange for the Israeli hostages. Then, during that pause in fighting, the U.S. and its Arab partners would announce the plan and start to form an interim Palestinian government.
The US, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates are all reportedly are part of the talks, which have an ultimate goal of creating a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. The Washington Post also suggests that Israel may be expected to expel many of its own citizens from West Bank settlements and help rebuild Gaza.
The development of these plans is part of the reason Biden has cautioned Israel against moving on to fighting Hamas in Rafah — the terrorist group’s last stronghold. He believes such a ground offensive could jeopardize the prospect of peace.
In a statement on Thursday, the White House said Biden “raised the situation in Rafah [during a call with Netanyahu], and reiterated his view that a military operation should not proceed without a credible and executable plan for ensuring the safety of and support for the civilians in Rafah.”
In response to these reports and the conversation he had with Biden, Netanyahu wrote that “Israel outright rejects international dictates regarding a permanent settlement with the Palestinians. Such an arrangement will be reached only through direct negotiations between the parties, without preconditions.”
He added, “Israel will continue to oppose the unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state. Such recognition in the wake of the October 7 massacre would give a huge reward to unprecedented terrorism and prevent any future peace settlement.”
The tension represents the latest hiccup in Biden and Netanyahu’s relationship, which has grown increasingly sour since October 7 as Biden put pressure on Israel to wind down its fight against Hamas.
Netanyahu, jpwever, was not the only one to question the prudence of the proposed American-led plan. Left-leaning group Democratic Majority for Israel said in a post on Twitter/X: “We have always favored a two state solution. But right now, how do we ensure the lesson does not become ‘sheer evil,’ pays? That must be a central part of any plan.”
Richard Goldberg, a Senior Advisor at The Foundation for Defense of Democracies contended that the plan “is doomed to fail for several reasons. Two big ones: It’s premised on Hamas surviving and involves Qatar.”
“Israel will be in a much stronger position after it takes Rafah,” he argued.
Harvard University Issued Subpoenaed for Antisemitism Documents
Following weeks of warnings and ultimatums, the US House Committee on Education and the Workforce subpoenaed Harvard University on Friday to hand over documents related to its handling of allegations of antisemitic intimidation and harassment.
The order represents an escalation of tactics by the House Committee, which began investigating Harvard University last semester to determine whether it ignores complaints of discrimination when the victims who lodge them are Jewish. Since then, Harvard has been asked twice to submit a trove of materials requested by the committee.
Last week, Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) wrote Harvard a censorious letter accusing school officials of obstructing the committee’s investigation with “grossly insufficient” responses to its inquires and submitting content of a “limited and dilatory nature.”
In a statement to Reuters, Harvard maintained that it has cooperated with the committee in “good faith,” providing “10 submissions totaling more than 3,500 pages that directly address key areas of inquiry put forward by the committee.” Chairwoman Foxx told the outlet, however that the problem is one of “quality, not quantity,” suggesting that Harvard is frenetically pantomiming compliance without providing anything of substance.
Foxx has requested “all reports of antisemitic acts or incidents and “related communications” going back to 2021 that were sent to Harvard’s offices of the president, general counsel, dean of students, police department, human resources, and diversity, equity, and inclusion, among others. She also requested documentation on Harvard Kennedy School professor Marshall Ganz, who, the school determined, had “denigrated” several students for being “Israeli Jews.” Originally, Foxx gave Harvard a deadline of Jan. 23 by which to comply.
“While a subpoena was unwarranted, Harvard remains committed to cooperating with the committee and will continue to provide additional materials, while protecting the legitimate privacy, safety, and security concerns of our community,” Harvard told Reuters.
“We will use our full congressional authority to hold these schools accountable for their failure on the global stage,” said committee member and Harvard Alumnus Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) in a statement announcing the action.
The past four months have been described by critics of Harvard as a low-point in the history of the school, America’s oldest and, arguably, most prestigious institution of higher education. Since the October 7 massacre by Hamas, Harvard has been accused of fostering a culture of racial grievance and antisemitism, while important donors have suspended funding for programs, and its first Black president, Claudine Gay, resigned in disgrace last month after being outed as a serial plagiarizer. Her tenure was the shortest in the school’s history.
As scenes of Hamas terrorists abducting children and desecrating dead bodies circulated worldwide, 31 student groups at Harvard, led by the Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) issued a statement blaming Israel for the attack and accusing the Jewish state of operating an “open air prison” in Gaza, despite that the Israeli military withdrew from the territory in 2005. In the weeks that followed, anti-Zionists stormed the campus screaming “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” and “globalize the intifada,” terrorizing Jewish students and preventing some from attending class.
In Novevmber, a mob of anti-Zionists — including Ibrahim Bharmal, editor of the prestigious Harvard Law Review — followed, surrounded, and intimidated a Jewish student. “Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame!” the crush of people screamed in a call-and-response chant into the ears of the student who —as seen in the footage — was forced to duck and dash the crowd to free himself from the cluster of bodies that encircled him.
By Dec., Claudine Gay — along with Elizabeth Magill of University of Pennsylvania (Penn) and Sally Kornbluth of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) — was hauled before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce to account for her administration’s handling of the problem. For weeks, Gay was reluctant to punish students who chanted genocidal slogans and unequivocally condemn antisemitism. During questioning, she told the committee that determining whether calling for a genocide of Jews constitutes a violation of school rules depends “on the context.”
Two days later, the committee launched investigations of Harvard, Penn, and MIT.
Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.
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