While pro-Palestinian students at a Canadian university launched a campaign to boycott a brand of hummus partially owned by an Israeli company, Israeli brands of chickpea spread were reported to be among many Israeli-made items in demand by Gaza consumers.
The University of Ottawa’s student newspaper the Fulcrum reported Thursday that pro-Palestinian student groups on campus, including Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights, the Palestinian Student Association and Young Jews for Social Justice, have begun a campaign to ban from campus dining halls hummus made by Sabra, owned in part by an Israeli company.
In a somewhat ironic twist, the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported Monday on the popularity of Israeli food products among Palestinian consumers: “Cookies, coffee, soap and even hummus – these are just some of the Israeli products one can find on the grocery stores' shelves in Gaza, written in Hebrew just like the ones in the nearby Israeli retail chains."
While Palestinians are reportedly purchasing Israeli food products, Assma Basmalah of the University of Ottawa’s Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights told the student newspaper, “We will be raising awareness amongst the student population, collecting signatures for a petition, and encouraging students to individually boycott the [hummus] product.”
Though the latest effort was spearheaded in Canada, similar efforts have been seen on U.S. campuses to boycott Sabra, including at Princeton University.
Like on American campuses, some professors support the anti-Israel effort.
Susan Spronk, an associate professor at the University of Ottawa’s School of International Development and Global Studies told the student paper that she supports the pro-Palestinian student group because “the struggle to liberate Palestine is this generation’s struggle against apartheid.”
“Boycott campaigns have symbolic importance and a potential economic impact. Boycott campaigns are a peaceful and non-violent way to affect political and social change,” the professor added.
Pro-Palestinian groups last month staged their annual “Israel Apartheid Week” of campus activities which aimed to compare Israel with apartheid-era South Africa though an examination of the facts on the ground in Israel might belie that comparison. Arab citizens of Israel elect representatives to the parliament and are high-ranking military officials, diplomats and winners of beauty contests and reality television shows.
Despite those facts, in its reporting on the hummus boycott effort, the Ottawa student newspaper did not qualify the phrase “Israeli apartheid” in the lead of its article, writing: “Students at the University of Ottawa launched a campaign to have Sabra hummus banned from campus because of its alleged connection with the Israel apartheid.”
A university spokeswoman said healthy food and fair prices are the priorities for the university’s food services.
“The purchasing policy of our service provider is apolitical,” said Caroline Milliard, the University of Ottawa’s manager of media relations.
The pro-boycott students cited a 2010 article in the New York Times which alleged that the Strauss Group, which partially owns Sabra along with PepsiCo, had contributed to the Israel Defense Forces’ Golani brigade that the students allege to have carried out human rights violations.
A spokeswoman for the U.S.-based Sabra told the Times in 2010 that the company had never contributed “hummus or anything else” to the IDF.
Meanwhile in Gaza, a local importer of products made by the large Israeli food manufacturer Tnuva said it moves 200 tons of products to the Palestinian market in Gaza every day, which are then sold at 1,700 stores around the Hamas-run territory.
Despite the popularity of Israeli products in Gaza, Gaza manufacturers have been limited in their ability to sell their products to Israel. Ynet reported that after Hamas wrested control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, Israel banned selling products from Gaza in Israel.
Ynet further reported that despite the challenges to Israeli-Palestinian business relations, Israel has invited Palestinian farmers for agricultural training in Israel.
"Our interest is to export Israel our products, we focus on the business benefits, and not politics," the head of the Gaza City Agricultural Association Ahmed Shafi told Ynet.
Jamal Abu Najar who heads Gaza’s Khan Yunis City Agricultural Association also emphasized the importance of Israeli-Palestinian business relations.
"Israel and the West Bank are the most important markets for the farmers in Gaza as Israel's high GNP drives the Israeli consumer to pay more for the product, and the manufacturers and marketers to pay less – saving money on shipping and handling as ships and planes are not needed due to the geographical proximity," Abu Najar said.