We’ve seen a lot of misleading and false charges against Israel in the British media over the years, but an article on Friday at the Independent promotes what’s truly one of the more bizarre allegations we’ve come across, in accusing the state of “gastronomic theft” for simply noting that shawarma is a popular Israeli street food.
Here are some excerpts from the Indy piece by Samuel Osborne:
It has been popular across the Middle East for hundreds if not thousands of years, so when a newspaper [Haaretz] labelled the shawarma “an iconic Israeli street food”, it was met with widespread mockery and derision
The newspaper’s decision to claim the street food as Israeli was widely mocked on social media.
Some sarcastically suggested other foods could be claimed by different nations.
One said: “Shawarma is just about as Israeli as spaghetti is Chinese. Stop trying to steal our culture. It’s enough you’ve already stolen most of our land.
Wow. It's almost as though half of Israel's population is a conglomeration of the dozens of Middle Eastern nations they were ethnically cleansed from. https://t.co/7fgI3dyjcD
— The Mossad: The Social Media Account (@TheMossadIL) January 12, 2019
Also, there’s another problem with the mockery coming from the anti-Israel camp. The criticism attacks a straw man, as nobody – including the author of the Haaretz article in question – is claiming that the food originated in Israel. Rather, the piece was simply stating that shawarma is a popular Israeli street food, a simple fact that anyone who lives here – or who has spent any time in the country – could tell you.
Indeed, when you think of classic American street food, most didn’t originate in the US. Hot Dogs, for instance, were invented in Frankfurt. Soft Pretzels go back centuries to Vienna, and elsewhere in Europe. Pizza is an extremely popular street food almost everywhere in the country, yet of course comes from Italy. Saying that a specific food is now a popular street food in a particular country means just that: that it’s currently popular and ubiquitous.
Moreover, this isn’t by any means the first such accusation against Israel. American celebrity cook Rachael Ray tweeted a photo of “Israeli nite,” with hummus, stuffed grape leaves and other edibles, to which James Zogby, the founder of Arab American Institute literally accused Israel of “cultural genocide”!
Damn it @rachaelray. This is cultural #genocide. It’s not #Israeli food. It’s #Arab (#Lebanese, #Palestinian, #Syrian, #Jordanian). First the Israelis take the land & ethnically cleanse it of Arabs. Now they take their food & culture & claim it’s theirs too! #Shame. https://t.co/1nDXlcfRHA
— James J. Zogby (@jjz1600) December 26, 2017
As Neema Parvini wrote at Quillette, in an article on the intellectual incoherence of the broader cultural appropriation accusation, “it is scarcely possible to find some aspect of British culture that is not in some way ‘cultural appropriation”, pointing to such disparate examples as Chicken Vindaloo and the literary origins of Shakespearean sonnets.
But, Parvini makes a broader point:
Historically, it has been the European openness not only to foreign goods, but also foreign ideas – those which work, those which enhance our physical and mental wellbeing – that has signalled the forward march of modernity. The rejection of foreign goods and ideas, commonly known as xenophobia, results in cultural isolationism. It has a poor historical record.
The eagerness of the Indy to publish and legitimise such criticism also shows that, for much of the British media, Israel can no nothing right. If they take steps to protect the their unique Jewish culture, values and religious traditions, it’s often criticised as evidence of being too insular, ethnocentric or racist. But, when they embrace, adopt, or adapt to, the broader Arab or Middle East culture, they’re accused of “appropriation” – demonstrating again that moral or intellectual consistency are rarely concerns for activists and journalists fixated with promoting their desired anti-Israel narrative.
- Video: Why did Israel steal hummus from the Arabs (UK Media Watch)
- At Reuters, another “incident” strikes (CAMERA)
- BBC ‘Hardtalk’ interview highlights presenter’s Israel fixation (BBC Watch)