Top Irish chef pulls out of Israeli propaganda tour

Palestinians are urging international chefs to pull out of an Israeli propaganda event promoting “farm-to-table” dining.

A world-renowned Irish chef has pulled out of the Round Tables, an Israeli-government sponsored propaganda initiative that uses international culinary stars to whitewash Israel’s blood-soaked image.

According to the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign, JP McMahon, owner of the Michelin-starred Galway restaurant Aniar, has pulled out of the tour.

The Irish activist group said it had seen an email from a representative of McMahon responding to a query from a member of the public.

The email said McMahon “was invited to attend however due to other work commitments we have had to decline.”

McMahon and the other dozen chefs invited to Israel from around the world did not respond to requests for comment from The Electronic Intifada.

While the email from his representative did not refer to the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) on Israel, the Irish activist group attributed McMahon’s withdrawal to the campaign urging chefs not to take part.

“McMahon realized what a culinary disaster it would have been to associate his good name and renowned restaurant with the poisonously distasteful ‘Brand Israel’ campaign cooked up by the Israeli state,” the group said.

“Palestinian civil society has called for a boycott of the apartheid Israeli state, including a cultural boycott,” Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign chair Fatin Al Tamimi said. “For us Palestinians, food is an inherent part of our culture and connection to the land, and it is sickening to see other international chefs allow themselves to be used to make Israeli apartheid more palatable.”

Earlier this year, a report published by a UN agency found that Israel practices apartheid against the entire Palestinian people and urged governments to support the boycott campaign.

Meanwhile, Israel lobby organizations have complained about a growing “silent boycott,” where groups, individuals and companies stay away from Israel without giving a reason, either because of their support for Palestinian rights, or simply to “avoid unnecessary problems and criticisms.”

The taste of propaganda

Israel has consistently tried to use seemingly apolitical, “cultural” initiatives as part of its hasbara, or official propaganda.

This has included government-funded junkets for food bloggers from around the world.

In November, for the third year, the Israeli foreign ministry will be flying more than a dozen top chefs to Israel for the Round Tables, where they will spend several days cooking at local restaurants.

They include Edgar Nuñez of El Sud 777 in Mexico City, Simon Hulstone of The Elephant in the English town of Torquay, and Stefano and Max Colombo of Barcelona’s Xemei.

The event is sponsored by firms including American Express, Grey Goose Vodka and the Dan hotel chain, which operates a property in occupied East Jerusalem.

In 2016, one top chef pulled out of the Round Tables and others expressed misgivings about taking part after being contacted by activists.

Violating the right to food

Last week, more than 180 civil society groups in Palestine and around the world wrote to the chefs, urging them not to take part in this “Brand Israel” propaganda effort.

“While Round Tables claims to advocate ‘cultural, economic and political dialogue through gastronomy,’ it instead uses the time-honored tradition of sharing culinary experiences as a means for whitewashing widespread violation of Palestinian fundamental rights, including the right to food,” the groups state.

The letter also outlines the devastating effects of Israeli military occupation on Palestinians, including widespread food insecurity.

“Israeli military attacks destroy farms, greenhouses, water wells, crops and livestock and Israeli army snipers regularly fire upon Palestinian farmers in Gaza,” the groups note.

“Israel uses agriculture as a means for wholesale theft of Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank and used cynical calorie calculations to deliberately keep Palestinians in Gaza on a starvation diet.”

Action urged

This year, Round Tables is being promoted with a “farm-to-table” theme, which Palestinian activists say makes it “even more tasteless” at a time when “Israeli settlers ramp up attacks against Palestinian families gathering for the annual olive harvest and the Israeli army continues to impose a cruel siege on Gaza, pushing unemployment to 42 percent – the highest rate in the world.”

“Join us in calling on these chefs not to cater to Israeli apartheid,” an action alert from PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, urges.

It asks individuals to send “a principled appeal on social media calling on the chefs to cancel their participation.”

The action alert provides the chefs’ Twitter and Facebook pages and suggests using the hashtag #ApartheidRoundTables to draw attention to the campaign.

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Comments

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For what it's worth, there's virtual unanimity among the Irish people that Israel's crimes against the Palestinians must be countered by firm measures. This view is not always reflected in elite circles, but at street level the consensus formed long ago. It's a hasbara-free zone. Glad to see an Irish chef has made the right decision. And if he never says why, or gives a prosaic reason, that's alright, too. He may not care to have his business trashed by the attack dogs of the media.

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Sounds as if JP McMahon is due a personal thank you.

Always wanted to try out his establishment and what better reason than this.

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Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.