Following a year-long campaign to de-shelve Sabra hummus products from the dining halls at DePaul University in Chicago, the DePaul chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) has reported that university dining services has introduced “an alternative brand of hummus to campus this fall semester.” Sabra’s parent company, the Strauss Group, has provided material and financial donations to the Israeli military — including two army units in particular that are responsible for grave human rights violations.
Earlier this year, students with SJP drafted a letter to the university administration to have Sabra products eliminated from the dining halls at DePaul. The university temporarily discontinued the Sabra products, but re-shelved them after Israel supporters expressed “outrage,” according to a report on The Electronic Intifada by University of Chicago student Sami Kishawi. Kishawi added:
This did not deter SJP’s progress. The group continued to compile research regarding Sabra’s ties to the Israeli military, all of which was presented to DePaul’s Fair Business Practices Committee after it was charged with overseeing any subsequent investigation of the hummus product. After months of deliberations, the DePaul administration and student government placed the SJP’s referendum on a student ballot.
For one week, students at DePaul were encouraged to vote either in favor of or against the referendum. The campus community quickly mobilized for something that critics of the referendum characterized as trivial and unnecessarily provocative. Media, both local and nationally, reported on SJP’s efforts and their role in inspiring and giving impetus to similar campaigns at other college campuses across the country.
This week, in a press release dated 22 November, SJP-DePaul stated:
A year ago, students involved in SJP raised concern to the University about the sale of Sabra hummus at DePaul. Days later, Sabra was removed from campus shelves, only to be reinstated soon after. The issue was taken up by the administration’s Fair Business Practices Committee (FBPC) for review. While it was undergoing review, SJP launched an educational campaign to promote ethically responsible consumer behavior on campus by raising awareness of Sabra’s connection to human rights abuses.
During the student election last May, SJP decided to ask the Student Government Association to allow students to vote on the manner. SJP’s request was approved and the first-ever student referendum was placed on the election ballot. Over a thousand DePaul students took part in the election, nearly 80 percent of whom voted to replace Sabra with an alternative brand of hummus.
Following the election, despite the large margin of student voters who voted for an alternative, the FBPC ultimately decided to keep Sabra, claiming that it “did not find evidence that the Strauss Group provides direct military support for units within the Israeli Defense Forces.” In response to the findings of the FBPC, DePaul President Rev. Dennis Holtschneider stated that the “product will remain on our shelves.”
However, in an unexpected turn, the University quietly introduced an alternative brand of hummus to campus dining halls several months later. According to a statement from the University, the alternative is a hummus homemade by Chartwells, DePaul’s food services vendor, to “provide the university community with more dining choices”.Student activists identify this move as a revision of the University’s decision to continue selling Sabra hummus. SJP member Maryam Salem said, “We’re happy that student concerns over Sabra hummus have finally been heard. A lot of students were disappointed by the University’s decision to keep Sabra back in the spring. But now, by offering an alternative brand of hummus, students have more ethical products to choose from.”
SJP members say they are excited by the success of their campaign and will continue to raise awareness about Israel’s occupation of Palestine, as well as strive for more socially responsible business relationships at DePaul University.