The Lebanese Industrialists Association is accusing Israel of falsely taking credit for traditional Middle Eastern cuisine. The organization’s president Fadi Abboud said his group plans to sue Israel to stop it from marketing hummus and other regional dishes as Israeli. “It is not enough they are stealing our land,” Abboud said. “They are also stealing our civilization and our cuisine.” He said his group would also seek to claim baba ghanouj and tabbouleh as Lebanon’s own. (AP, Oct. 7)
Perhaps the only thing sillier than Fadi Abboud’s claim is the reaction to it in the pro-Israel blogosphere. Right-wing Zio-blogger Debbie Schlussel fumes Oct. 8:
One bone of contention I’ve repeatedly noted on this site is the false claim by Arabs that falafel, hummus, and other Middle-Eastern food is “Arabic” food. That’s despite the fact that, for example, hummus–the dip made from chickpeas, sesame butter (tahini or “techina” in Hebrew), olive oil, lemon, garlic, etc.–originated in what is now Israel and was invented by Jews.
In fact, Jews have been eating these dishes for centuries, longer than there has been an Islam or an Arabian empire, as I’ve pointed out. These foods are an intrinsic part of Sephardic [“Spanish”/Orientalist/Asian] Jewish culture and history. But Arabs–particularly Muslims, since Christians tend to disavow any association with being Arabic–need some invention to claim other than innovations in explosive devices and torture methods.
The accompanying graphic shows a falafel sandwich with an Israeli flag stuck in it. The bracketed interjection is in Schlussel’s original, which shows that not only does she not know the difference between brackets and parenthesis, but that she also doesn’t know the difference between Oriental (itself an embarrassingly old-fashioned word) and “Orientalist” (which describes a school of thought and genre of literature, not ethnicity). Time to brush up on your Edward Said, Debbie!
Schlussel goes on to portray the Wall Street Journal as a pawn of the sinister anti-Israel conspiracy, taking them to task for a review of the book Cuisines of the Axis of Evil by Chris Fair:
Yes, now, those who hate Jews and Israel have resorted even to lying about Mid-Eastern food for their attacks and fraudulent public relations. Ignorant authoress Chris Fair does so in her book “Cuisines of the Axis of Evil,” and Abheek Bhattacharya did so in his review of the book in the Wall Street Journal. (With a name like Abheek Bhattacharya, I’m sure he has no agenda whatsoever.)
“Authoress”? What’s with the anachronism fetish, Debbie? But much more to the point—can you imagine Ms. Schlussel’s outrage if it had been suggested that a writer’s Jewish name necessarily implied a particular “agenda”? Not to mention that Abheek Bhattacharya is an Indian name, not Arab!
Finally, Schlussel reproduces a letter to the WSJ from one Joshua Cappell, who contests Fair’s contention that Israelis inherited falafel and hummus from the Palestinians they occupied, arguing instead that these dishes were brought to Israel by Sephardic refugees expelled from the Arab lands. Plausible enough. But when Schlussel says that Cappell’s letter is “spot on” and enthuses “Mazel Tov [Congrats!]” (incorrect use of brackets again)—she is contradicting her own thesis that Middle Eastern cuisine “originated in what is now Israel”!
The erudite blog Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion (which alerted us to this particular teapot-tempest) notes that this unseemly squabbling misses the point, and “it’s more sensible to think in terms of a shared middle-eastern heritage rather than ‘Sephardic Jewish’ vs ‘Arabic’ (or vs ‘Coptic’ or ‘Syriac’ etc).” Bartholomew also quotes food historian Ken Albala, author of Beans: A History, on the falafel fracas:
The origins of the dish are of course unknown, but one could probably trace an ancestor back to an earlier cuisine, most likely to Egypt where a similar dish is made with fava beans (ta’amiyya). That any one people could own falafel is of course a ridiculous notion, but it nonetheless illustrates a very common tendency—to associate a people with a particular food and then claim it as an integral part of national identity.