There is a documentary making the rounds called “In Search of Israeli Cuisine.”
From watching the trailer, it is clear that the chefs and experts in the film readily acknowledge the influence of the cuisine of the Arab world as influencing Israeli cuisine, even going so far as pointing to hummus and calling it “Palestinian” – which is of course absurd.
“Yemenite, Palestinian, Iraqi, Moroccan, Russian, Turkish… I don’t even know- how many countries are represented in one place,” says renowned chef Michael Solomonov as he points to an array of salads and appetizers that are ubiquitous to Israeli restaurants.
An Israeli baker says “Food is not political. It is what is grown on this land by the people who are living in it. If they are called Palestinians or Israelis, I don’t think the tomato cares.”
Arab America is very upset. To them, Israeli cuisine is political and even Israeli chefs admitting the influence of “Palestinian” food culture is cultural theft.
This statement coupled with calling Palestinian food “Israeli” though meant well, blatantly ignores the ethnic notions of what it means to be a Palestinian in Israel or the occupied territories. And though Solomonov might want food not to be related to politics, it is impossible and unrealistic to expect it to be so. Because food is a part of the culture and Palestinian culture is under attack in Israel, food can and does inherently become political.
Setting aside that Palestinian culture is essentially a myth, the experts in the film are elevating it beyond what it deserves to be – putting it on par with every other culture.
Komarovsky’s statement and Solomonovo’s movie do not take into account the inequalities Palestinians face in Israel which whitewashes Palestinian suffering. By calling Palestinian food in particular, Israeli, one justifies these actions and appropriates Palestinian cultures that the Israeli government tries so hard to destroy. At the bottom of this debate is the idea of privilege and who holds it in a society. Privilege is the invisible advantage and unearned benefits which are given to dominant and powerful groups because of identity traits.
This paragraph is a neat piece of hypocrisy. At the same time of asserting, without any evidence, that the Israeli government is trying to hard to destroy Palestinian culture (Israel has museums dedicated to Arab culture) the writer reveals that she doesn’t admit that there is anything that can be considered Israeli cuisine. Because the chef mentioned many countries as contributing to Israeli cuisine, but this Arab writer does not accept that Israel has created a new and vibrant cuisine over 70 years. It isn’t Jewish – it is Israeli.
So the only person denying a food culture is the Arab, not the Israeli Jew.
While Michael Solomonov and his associates did not consciously make the decision to participate in this cycle of oppression of Palestinians, it is something that happens automatically in privileged circles that interact with aspects of oppressed groups. The effect is the same. Because of the ethnic cleansing involved with the Palestinian people, Israeli words, and sentiments about Palestinian culture matter.
Where exactly is the ethnic cleansing of a people who didn’t exist a hundred years ago and now say they are 12 million strong? A people who literally would not exist if Israel wasn’t created?
The complaints given to the film are so over-the-top (and creative) that one wonders what Palestinians could accomplish if they spent one tenth of the effort they give towards being pissed off to doing something constructive.
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