University students to vote on hummus ban

But can boycotts really change the dynamic in the Middle East?


Students at DePaul University in Chicago have launched a crusade against a popular chickpea dip. Despite a similar, failed attempt at Princeton late last year, a group of students at DePaul University are pushing to ban the sale of Israeli-made Sabra hummus on campus. Students for Justice in Palestine launched the movement at DePaul, claiming that Sabra’s parent brand, the Strauss Group, supports Israeli military units accused of human rights abuses against Palestinians. DePaul’s student body is voting in a referendum this week.

It appears students are convinced that those are some mighty tainted peas. And, for whatever reason, they must also believe that restricting the sale of said tainted peas will culminate in a massive boycott, putting such dire economic strain on the state of Israel that it will have no choice but to change its military tactics. Here’s why I think it won’t work.

When the issue was being considered at Princeton back in December, I argued that the movement and (similar boycott attempts) will undoubtedly fail to get the Israeli army to change course for three main reasons. The first is the counter-boycott movement, also known as BUYcott, which acts in reverse of the boycott protesters. When a group in Maryland called for a boycott of an Israeli beauty product last summer, BUYcotters organized to buy the product instead and ended up clearing out the shelves. The same thing happened when protesters called for a boycott of Israeli-made wine in Toronto. If, indeed, DePaul students are successful in banning the sale of Sabra hummus on campus, I have a feeling sales may spike elsewhere.

The second reason DePaul and similar boycott attempts will likely fail to achieve their goal is because of the selective nature of the products chosen for boycott. Hummus, face creams, coffees—even academics—have all been targeted by the movement, while computer chips, medical technologies, and other Israeli products and scientific breakthroughs have been allowed to seamlessly cross borders. How persuasive can a boycott possibly be if activists pick and choose which products they can do without?

The third reason is the most intangible and arguably ideological. (Forgive me, I’m still in my 20’s.) Simply put, the situation that has been festering in the Middle East is not strictly about economics. In fact, I would argue economics has little to do with, but I know there are those who would debate me on that. Either way, the struggle between the Israelis and the Palestinians is largely one of existential values, boiling down to religious claim to land. As I said before, and I’ll reiterate now, not buying fruit juice from one side or the other won’t throw anyone off course. Core values are impervious to such external pressure.

So, if perhaps DePaul’s boycott of Sabra Hummus is more symbolic than pragmatic (a symbolic student movement, you say?! How novel!), is there really a reason to take issue? On the one hand, no. Each member of the student body has the opportunity to exercise his or her opinion via the non-binding referendum, so it is not as though a few ardent activists have totally seized control of the cafeteria.

That said, squabbling over hummus–even if just symbolically–does little more than cheapen the overall discourse surrounding the Middle East conflict, nevermind ignite hostility on already brewing bed of Israeli-Palestinian tension. Still, if one feels compelled to fuel campus fires, why not do so in a more pragmatic way? Perhaps it’s because “I’m working with my local government after reading up on both sides” doesn’t look as good on a poster board. Indeed, until then, it seems the war on delicious dips shall wage on.


University students to vote on hummus ban

  1. I think the so called “BUYcott” are limited to pro-israeli die hards while boycotts based on ethical consumerism has potential to grow. The goal is to get the Strauss Group to stop directly supporting the Golani Brigade. It’s not that tricky to understand and accomplish.

  2. You wrote:
    “Either way, the struggle between the Israelis and the Palestinians is largely one of existential values, boiling down to religious claim to land. ”

    If you would care to read a book (see for example: Noam Chomsky’s “The Fateful Traingle”, Norman Finklestein’s “Image and Reality of the Israel Palestine Conflict”) then you would realize that the three issues are:
    a) The right of refugees to return.
    b) The Dismantling of Settlements.
    c) The status of Jerusalem.

    On all these issues, legally and morally, the Palestinians are in the right and the Israelis are in the wrong.

    • Why does Sceptic think it logical that the Palestinians should get their own state, but that their people should move to Israel.
      The right of return for refugees doesn’t make sense – as surely they would want to go live in their own country.
      The reason is that the ‘right of return’ is a code word for the destruction of the Jewish state – and people like Sceptic are being totally dishonest by continuing with this underhand subterfuge.
      Shame on you Sceptic!

      • Good call DJ. The Palestinians HAVE to stop insisting on the right of return as a condition of peace. It is a complete non-starter with Israel and understandably so. If you really think that a right of return could work without catastrophic social chaos you’ve really drank the kumbaya kool aid.

  3. Sceptic – you are a total fool. If anyone would like to learn why and more google the people he is referring to and learn why – Finkelstein’s tenure bid at DePaul was denied.[1] Finkelstein was placed on administrative leave for the 2007-2008 academic year. CHomsky (despite being Jewish) is a hater of Israel and his fellow Jews – Why you ask – Regarding the killing of Osama Bin Laden, Chomsky believes that the United States acted improperly. Chomsky has made many criticisms of the Israeli government, its supporters and the USA. Chomsky hesitated before publishing work critical of Israeli policies while his parents were alive, because he “knew it would hurt them” instead he waited until they were dead. – PLEASE READ FOR YOURSELVES IF YOU WANT IT’S ALL OUT THERE

  4. If there is a similar boycott in my city I’ll spend an entire pay cheque on Hummus. Anyone that doesn’t support Israel is a left-tarded idiot and a useful tool for the Islamic hate machine.

    Chomsky is a total Jew hater and his views should never be considered in such arguments. How he was raised Jewish is pretty perplexing.

  5. James,

    Raul Hilberg the great scholar who wrote “The Destruction of European Jewery” had said that Finkelstein’s place in the history of history writing is assured. Anybody who has followed Finkelstein’s tenure case knows that he was recommended by his department. He is acknowledged as an outstanding scholar. He was denied tenure because of outside pressure. History will count Norman Finkelstein and Noam Chomsky as two outstanding scholars with impeccable moral integrity.

    There is a documentary on Norman Finkelstein titled “American Radical”. Check out http://americanradicalthefilm.com/

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