Sabra foods is a joint venture of PepsiCo. Inc. and Israel’s Strauss Group Ltd—the second largest food and beverage company in Israel. Everything about this company cries out for a boycott of its major US product—Sabra Hummus.
Hummus is big business. According to the Wall Street Journal article (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323798104578453174022015956.html) “Sabra doesn't disclose financial data, but IRI data show its hummus sales were about $315 million last year, up about 18%. And because some retailers, including Costco Wholesale Corp. (COST), don't provide information to IRI, the figures understate Sabra's retail sales.”
I hope everyone who is concerned about the plight of Palestine will take local action to educate purveyors and customers about this company. It is an excellent opportunity to spread the word about the real issues in the Palestine/Israel conflict while at the same time helping Northwest farmers by promoting sustainability and supporting the “buy local” trend. The tools included here provide a simple way to help with the Boycott movement.
Those who already support the global BDS movement know the moral issues that are at stake. The revenue stream produced by Sabra hummus delivers million of tax dollars to Israel’s current Likud government. That government uses that money to implement their belligerent occupation of Palestinian land, their illegal separation wall, and their continued settlement of Palestinian land. Those tax dollars also helps Israel defy the international laws that require Palestinian refugees to be allowed to return to their legal homes in Israel and the West Bank. I don’t believe most Americans would willingly support these policies if they were more aware of what is at stake. Simply put, when you buy Sabra hummus you are supporting war and oppression.
Direct support for Israeli aggression: In their posting on their own Sabra hummus boycott, The Denver University Students for Justice in Palestine say that:
Sabra Hummus is owned in part by the Strauss Group, which adopts members of the Golani and Givati Brigades of the Israeli military, and subsidizes their living costs, among other things, paying expenses in the 5 and 6 figures. These brigades are responsible for some of the most egregious human rights violations of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, such as the bombings of Gaza in 2008-9 in Operation Cast Lead, and the imprisonment of children in Israeli dungeons.”
Sensitivity: The name Sabra itself is offensive and contentious. Sabra was the name of one of the Palestinian refugee camps where massacres of Palestinian refugees took place under the watchful eye of the Israeli Defenses Force (the descendants of the “Jewish resistance”). All together, as many as 3,500 Palestinians died at the Sabra and Shatila camp massacre. To name an Arabic snack food after these kinds of acts is truly offensive and distasteful.
The term “Sabra” also refers to the earliest Israelis born in Israel. To quote from the Wikipedia entry:
The term was used by the Zionist movement, to celebrate the "New Jew" that emerged in Israel…Unlike the "Old Jew" who did not fight for his self-defense, the Sabra fought in the Jewish resistance movements, in the Palmach and after the establishment of Israel in the Israel Defense Forces.
In other words, the term celebrates the militarization of the very concept of what it means to be Jewish: it celebrates a shift from the tolerant, humanistic ideas which characterized a certain phase of Jewish development into the violent, intolerant, aggressive phenomenon of modern, hard-line Zionism epitomized by the current Likud government of Israel. What Wikipedia mildly terms the “Jewish resistance movements” –groups like the Palmach, Irgun, and the Stern Gang were “resisting” the British who had made Jewish settlers in Palestine a privileged group at the expense of the original native Palestinians (Muslim, Christian and Jewish). The “Jewish resistance” orchestrated a campaign of terror that included the infamous bombing of the King David Hotel and the assassinations of the British High Commissioner and the UN’s first official peace negotiator Swedish Count Folke Bernadotte. These same “Jewish resistance movements” were deeply implicated in the ethnic cleansing that Israel launched in 1947, a process which involved massacres like that at Dar Yassin. This dark chapter in history is nothing to celebrate.
Jobs: The corporate polices of Sabra have serious local implications for people in the Pacific Northwest as well. The Pacific Northwest is a major producer of the chickpeas that are the main ingredient in Hummus. Sabra is investing heavily to promote cheap southern grown alternatives to chickpeas grown in the Northwest. That will reduce their transportation costs to their eastern production points, but since chickpeas are vulnerable to a number of diseases in warmer climates, it is safe to assume that these southern grown chickpeas will be more highly dosed with pesticides, fungicides, etc. than the local product grown in the Pacific Northwest. In other words, Sabra’s business strategy is threatening the livelihoods of farmers in the Pacific Northwest, and creating jobs in the east which could be easily done here at home, while helping to create a product that is probably not that healthy.
Business practices: Both of the two companies which merged and later created the present day Sabra (Strauss and Elite) date back to the days of the British Mandate in Israel in the 1930’s. Both have been fined for their unsavory business practices. According to Wikipedia, between 2004 and 2006, both Strauss and Elite were listed as monopolies by the Israel Antitrust Authority. Interestingly, “Strauss-Elite has been found to charge more for their products in Israel than for the same products exported to other countries.” If they can’t even be fair to their own people, why should you support them?
Health and Quality: Everyone respects quality and value in consumer goods. Food is an especially sensitive product. Not only does it affect our health, we typically use food in celebrations of our most important values. Can you really feel good about offering a “Sabra” dip at a party when you know it is tainted with an illegal occupation and apartheid? Can you really feel good about idly snacking on this dip while you watch the evening news and seeing the consequences of Israel’s policy in the Middle East? From the moment you taste this product, you can feel the overdose of salt and sugar that is used to give it that addictive quality peculiar to processed fast food. There is that unmistakable hint of “miracle whip” about it. It is visibly excreted from an extruder! Just two tablespoons is one ‘serving.” Each serving contains 5% of your daily salt requirement. A typical person will easily eat at least 4 servings at a sitting—if not more. A glance at the shelf life will give you an idea about how highly preserved it is. Yuck!
Authenticity: Trying exotic foreign foods is one way that people first begin to learn about other cultures and countries. Contrary to what you might assume from the name and source of this product, it is not traditional Jewish food at all. As the Wikipedia entry notes, “As a result of its popularity, Israelis have made hummus a "national food symbol … Commenting on its popularity, Gil Hovav, an Israeli food editor interviewed on the BBC program Cooking in the Danger Zone, stated that "even during the intifada years Jews would sneak [...] into the Muslim quarter just to have a vital, really genuine good hummus," and noted that like many dishes considered to be Israeli national foods, hummus is actually Arab.”
So if you like hummus, why eat the Israeli version when even Israelis prefer the real (Arab) thing? Good local hummus is probably available in every middle eastern restaurant you can find—and it is easy and cost effective to make real hummus at home at a fraction of the cost of the Sabra product.
Overall, then, sales of Sabra hummus contribute both financially and symbolically to an Israeli state policy of aggression and expansion at the expense of the Palestinian people. Sabra’s corporate policy undermines the livelihoods of farmers in the Pacific Northwest and ,by undercutting sales of locally produced hummus, threatens jobs in the Pacific Northwest. Its bad business practices show that, all politics aside, it is not a company that deserves our support.
- - Document with Posters, Coupon and List of Pepsico Products:
- - Coupons to hand to employees at the store
- - One legal sized poster (a copy shop can expand this to ledger size if signs are needed)
- - A list of PepsiCo products
- - One leaflet (can be printed back to back with the letter-sized poster to make a handout)
- - One recipe for hummus with ideas for action
- - A page of guidelines and ideas for effective boycott actions
- - A copy of the Wall Street Journal article on Sabra Hummus
- - 14 Myths about Palestine/ Israel (APALME pamphlet)
The overall objective of all this is to create a friendly situation where you can help educate more people about Middle Eastern culture and politics—especially the issues of Palestine— in a friendly, non-threatening way that promotes dialogue and understanding. You don’t have to be an “expert” on the Middle East—you just need to have some simple constructive facts at your command.
You can begin with the pamphlet we have attached (14 Myths about Palestine/ Israel). This is by no means an exhaustive list of the myths surrounding this issue but it is accurate and answers some of the most basic questions. Phyllis Bennis’ concise book Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer is also a good (and far more comprehensive) starting point.
Justice for Palestinians is long overdue. As Secretary of State Kerry tries to restart official negotiations on this issue, we will have some good opportunities to bring this long neglected issue to the fore. We need to more creative and more pro-active in taking advantage of the publicity that will surround these efforts. In particular, we need to bring the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement to the attention of our neighbors. I hope this packet will help people do that. Although I wasn’t aware of it when I began drafting these materials, others are already working along the same lines. (http://mondoweiss.net/2013/02/settlement-products-hummus.html, http://denversjp.wix.com/dusjp#!sabra/c1qb0)
I also hope people start exploring other options. Many of us who understand this issue are older and have investments—why don’t we all simply pick up the phone and call local brokers and retirement fund managers. If we express our concerns, tell them we are personally ready to divest ourselves from companies involved in business with Israel, and ask them to look for “Israel free” investment options for our retirement funds, the word will quickly get around…institutions have nerve endings too.
All the best to all of you,