Column: Palestinian Chef Levels Tasteless Accusations Against Israel. Is She Full Of Hummus?

In The Philadelphia Inquirer’s food section, a Palestinian chef opened up a whole new front…quite an unappetizing one…in the propaganda wars over Israel.

I missed a story about Anan Jardali Zahr a native of Acre, Israel, when it first appeared in the July 6 Inquirer. Zahr’s family moved to Davis, Calif., in 1965 when she was 11, according to the Inquirer.

Since I rarely read about food, I tossed the paper’s food section in the trash and caught up with the story last week.

We learn plenty about the Israeli-Arab conflict from the news and opinion pages in most newspapers, and the sports section carries stories on the situation at times. But the food section? This was new to me. What’s more, the story is one-sided. We are left with deep concerns about her accusations and what amounts to the Inquirer’s collusion.

She charges that Israel takes credit for “Palestinian” contributions to Middle Eastern cuisine. I suppose we should thank her for introducing new food for the thoughtless.

“Because I am Palestinian, I have seen…how (Israel) wants to not just take our land and destroy our villages, but they want to appropriate our culture. (Israel is) very good at food appropriation, which is taking something that doesn’t belong to them,” she said.

“Falafel actually originated from Egypt. And when did hummus become a national Israeli dish? It originates from the Arabic word for chickpeas. With my food, I want to inspire people to cook, but at the same time, when I post some things I will say, ‘This is not Israel, it’s Palestinian.’ I feel it’s my duty as a Palestinian. And food tells a lot about a people.”

If Israel is appropriating “our culture,” does that include honor killings, blood feuds and rule by dictators?

In a July 12 letter to the Inquirer, Matt Silver of Ventnor, N.J., writes, “It doesn’t take an anthropologist to understand the obvious: Arabs and Jews have both lived on that most contested strip of land for thousands of years, with culinary traditions developing alongside one another, intersecting and comingling with enough frequency for each to materially inform the other.

“Claiming otherwise is an exercise in bad journalism and bad faith,” Silver adds.

Silver spells it out. It stands to reason that culinary customs in Israel would be drawn from most ethnic/religious groups. Zahr, who lives in Glen Mills, Delaware County, does not bother to document her accusation, as is the case with most pro-Arab activists on a variety of issues.

Zahr is picking a fight where none exists. That is not Palestinian pride. It is only hostility to Israel. How crude and absurd to commence, well, a rhetorical food fight.

There is also the question of whose land this belongs to. If this is Jewish land, how can Israel destroy “our villages?” The answer to both questions is a matter of dispute.

She also refers to “Palestine” multiple times. It would be helpful if she defined “Palestine,” a term tossed around recklessly by many of her fellow pro-Arab advocates.

The article, headlined “It’s my duty as a Palestinian,” is written in a question-and-answer format that focuses on her experiences as a chef and restaurant owner. The reporter, Massarah Mikati, describes the piece as one in which “The Inquirer spoke with Zahr about food, culture, and the political nature of Palestinian identity.”

It proves to be a weird combination. Zahr’s promotion of “Palestinian identity” requires devaluing anything Israel might have contributed to Middle Eastern cuisine.

Zahr’s accusations are leveled in a forum that is devoid of balance. What does the Israeli government or advocates for Israel think about Zahr’s concerns? Do they concede that her criticisms are legitimate or think she is full of hummus?

Publishing a challenging letter to the editor falls far short of what the newspaper should have done. It is basic journalism to report a response from the other side, or at least show that they have reached out for an alternative view. The reporter could have sought reactions from dozens of pro-Israel groups either locally or nationally. If she is interested, I will gladly compose a list.

It appears unwieldy to incorporate a pro-Israel response in a q&a format, but Inquirer editors have a duty to do that.

In light of Zahr’s stabs at Israel, perhaps the newspaper should have pulled the story from the food section and treated it as a news story.

If Zahr has a legitimate beef, so to speak, about Israel appropriating Palestinian culture, it should be addressed. No reason that her concerns cannot be resolved in a civil manner. Yet it is hard to take her seriously when she presents her complaint in such a hostile way. Most Americans do not closely follow the more important elements of the Israeli-Arab conflict, so why would they care about this?

Force-feeding her worldview is only going to confuse us further and offend pro-Israel advocates. She makes such an issue so hard to swallow.

About Bruce Ticker

Bruce S. Ticker, who writes from Philadelphia, also blogs for The San Diego Jewish World and Smirking Chimp and previously for the suspended Philadelphia Jewish Voice. He was previously a reporter and copy editor for daily newspapers in eastern Pennsylvania.

Check Also

white house

Column: Biden’s Israel Vise: So Little Sense, So Much Hustling

President Biden withheld bomb delivery to Israel, influenced by political pressures and potential voter backlash, while facing criticism both domestically and internationally. Critics worry about the impact on U.S.-Israel relations and Democratic policies.

Column: GOP House Members Go on the Record: The Jews Killed Jesus

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene criticized antisemitism but opposed the Antisemitism Awareness Act, suggesting it could unjustly criminalize Christian beliefs.