Hummus Referendum

by Kimberly Hopewell

At first it was disheartening to see that a spat about hummus had garnered the top spot on the Daily Princetonian’s list of most read articles; it seemed as if students were buying into the idea that the Princeton Committee on Palestine (PCP) was truly arguing for choice. But, a quick glance at the “Save the Hummus!!” Facebook Event Wall, restored my confidence in the student body. “Boycott HAMAS, not HUMMUS!!” and “It’s Hummus. I severely doubt its harboring terrorists”, were just a few of the posts indicating an awareness of PCP’s duplicity, presenting a vote on the issue of alternatives as a ploy to make unfounded claims about student opinions. But the 1,004 students who voted against alternative brands last week, putting an end to the referendum, were not fooled. Although 600 students voted for the referendum, its proponents can no longer hope to draw misleading conclusions about student’s Israeli-Palestinian opinions from their chickpea delicacy preferences.

PCP’s referendum would have forced the University to offer alternatives to Sabra Hummus in all retail locations. The referendum was an objection to the Strauss Group, an Israeli food company which owns half of Sabra and allegedly provides support to Israel’s Golani Brigade that has been accused of war crimes. They argued that Sabra’s monopoly on University hummus forces students looking to purchase traditional Arab food to buy hummus which funds crimes against the people of Palestine. In their “Boycott Sabra Hummus” Facebook information page, PCP stated, “This lack of choice is particularly egregious and violent for Princetonians of Arab descent, who cannot eat the food that is quintessential to their culture unless they are willing to support crimes against their own people.” While students should be encouraged to express their beliefs and fight for that which they believe, the scope of PCP’s referendum seems to be pushing an anti-Israeli agenda rather than directly fighting against the larger issue of war crimes.

After weeks of debate, the PCP’s referendum for alternative hummus did not end up on the initial USG Elections ballot. Samson Schatz, co-Vice President of Tigers for Israel, made a successful appeal during last month’s USG Senate meeting, arguing that a textual inconsistency between PCP’s petition and the actual referendum compromised the legitimacy of the 200 signatures by obscuring the true meaning of the referendum. PCP’s petitions had initially read: “The USG will make a formal recommendation to University Dining Services on behalf of the undergraduate student body to stop selling Sabra hummus, on the condition that Princeton offers an alternative hummus.” PCP then made changes for clarification and the referendum would have said, “On behalf of the student body, the USG will make a formal recommendation to University Dining Services that it offer an alternative to Sabra hummus in all University retail locations.” PCP decided to resubmit a petition, after the initial rejection, with the revised text and 200 new signatures. As a result Schatz no longer asked TFI members to actively oppose the referendum since it was no longer a boycott issue, but stated that TFI still disagreed with the “unfair” targeting of Sabra Hummus. In an email correspondence with the Tory, Schatz noted that because “alternative hummus brands are available in the U-Store … the referendum [was] somewhat unnecessary.”

Yoel Bitran, President of PCP, wrote in a Daily Princetonian op-ed that “there was no good reason to oppose having more options.” However, the argument for “options” was clearly a veil for an ideological, anti-Israel proposal since there are already alternatives on campus. The Princeton Center for Jewish Life echoed this concern, urging students in an email to “make an informed choice, understanding that the passage of the referendum would allow the referendum’s sponsors to make a strong political statement about Israel.”

Samson Schatz advanced TFI’s perspective in his own editorial, arguing that there are other monopoly products – like Coca-Cola, which has funded US troops – that could also be connected with human rights violations, but that would seem silly to boycott. In an email, Schatz also pointed out that, “There are many products in the Frist gallery, for example, for which [there] are no options. If you want sushi, there is one brand, if you want cola, there is only Coca Cola, if you want a power drink, there is only Powerade.” And I agree that singling out Sabra Hummus seems slightly illogical. In the Daily Princetonian, Schatz argued that because, “Israel, like the United States, prosecutes its soldiers for unlawful behavior,” there is already sufficient protection against human rights violations which is far superior to any sort of food boycott. Thus even if PCP’s primary objective had been to get alternatives for the student body, they still would have had quite an obstacle making their flawed logic believable.  Students would have needed more solid evidence to believe that a hummus boycott would have penalized Israel for war crimes.

What failed to be mentioned during this debate was the fact that the other half of Sabra Dipping Company is owned by PepsiCo whose $50,000 Operation Gratitude Campaign sends an annual “100,000 care packages filled with snacks, entertainment items and personal letters of appreciation addressed to individually named U.S. Service Members deployed in hostile regions.” I believe it could be argued, by PCP’s logic, that a boycott of a Sabra Hummus would have been a boycott of PepsiCo and essentially would be an attack on US Troops that depend on the company’s funding.

Schatz was right in encouraging this campus to “focus its intellectual energy on the real issues rather than shift its focus to minute, immature and pathetic distractions.” PCP should have made a more direct approach, perhaps with topical speakers or open group discussion, to affect public opinion. In the future, I hope that students will continue to show this high level of conscientiousness and continue voting against this type of disingenuous referendum. 

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