The Strauss Group, the company that openly supports the Israeli army and makes Sabra brand hummus, is trying a new advertising strategy to hide its Israeli connections and combat a growing boycott movement.
It is to depict Arabs and Muslims in its ads as a form of cover. Should we call this “Arabwashing?”
An EI reader wrote to us this week after seeing the ad on a children’s cable channel in the US:
On Nick Jr. this morning they had a commercial with hijabi women [Muslim women wearing a head covering] in it and I was excited to see that! They showed some other multicultural people (I remember a rastafarian looking group) and back to the Muslims weighing chickpeas etc. Everyone gathers at a huge table in a beautiful field and they reveal the commercial is for Sabra hummus.
The 30-second ad is called “Sabra World Table” and can be found on YouTube.
Stock characters at the service of consumer desires
The ad begins with a young, blonde woman ringing a bell outside a beautiful suburban home – this presumably is the person with whom the ad viewer is supposed to identify.
As she rings the bell, an Arab woman in a far-away market place hears it and is summoned to action, rather like a genie hearing the call of its master. The marketplace looks strikingly like the markets of Hebron or the Old City of Jerusalem, which Israel has invaded, settled and done its best to place off limits to indigenous Palestinian inhabitants, merchants and customers.
Then another man, who looks like a character from Fiddler on the Roof hears the bell in what appears to be a caricature of an east European shtetl – except that he lifts up a basket of olives.
Other “colorful” ethnic characters – including Africans and Asians – leap into action at the sound of the white woman’s bell and bring “the fresh flavors of the world” to her suburban backyard.
The boycott is biting Sabra hummus
There’s a number of messages from this ad:
It makes no mention of Israel, even though the Strauss Group notoriously supports the Givati and Golani brigades of the Israeli army which have been responsible for occupation and war crimes over many years.
It presents hummus, Sabra’s main product, as simultaneously “ethnic” and exotic but also not belonging to any specific culture. This functions as a continuation of Israel’s attempt to appropriate specifically Arab foods, which have typically targeted hummus, falafel, maftoul (“Israeli coucous”) and most recently Palestine’s traditional olive oil culture and production and to erase their origins.
The presentation of Sabra as harmonious with a happy feast among people of every background is grossly inconguous given the reality of rampant racism against Africans in Israel, and the continued ethnic cleansing of Palestinians whose traditional ways of life this ad both caricatures and purports to celebrate.
The ad also indicates that the growing movement to boycott Sabra over its support for the Israeli army is having an impact – hence this sort of desperate messaging.
Students all over the US have raised awareness about Sabra’s support for the Israeli army. In May last year, for example, students at Chicago’s DePaul University voted by a huge margin to ban Sabra hummus.
Most recently, Illinois high school student Nadine Darwish wrote about her successful effort to have her school offer an ethical alternative to Sabra-brand hummus.