Gabrielle Hamilton, the award-winning chef and owner of Prune restaurant in New York City dropped out of the Tel Aviv initiative this week. Hamilton, author of the memoir Blood, Bones and Butter, follows Ana Roš from the Slovenian restaurant Hiša Franko, who had earlier pulled out of the event.
The cancellations follow sustained calls for boycotting the events. Ninety international chefs and culinary figures had signed an appeal to respect the Palestinian-led campaign for boycotting Israel.
“[As] professionals committed to food sovereignty and food access for all, we know that none of us can lend our names or our cooking skills to an Israeli government-sponsored culinary event such as this one. Our values around good food must include everyone, including the Palestinian people,” the appeal states.
Slamming Israel’s theft of Palestinian food and culture, including its declaration of falafel as an “Israeli” dish, Israeli activists from the group Boycott from Within also urged participating chefs to drop out of the initiative.
“Israel is a settler-colonial state, perpetrating the erasure of the indigenous Palestinian people, both physically and by means of appropriation of their culture, including indigenous food,” the activists wrote.Boycott campaigners say that they have made the Round Tables initiative a toxic brand. That has been proven by the festival’s sharp decline in chefs willing to participate as well as a drastic uptick in the number of international chefs, food writers and culinary icons who have joined the campaign to support the call for boycotting Round Tables.
Israel uses such initiatives as part of its official propaganda – known by the Hebrew term hasbara – to distract from its human rights atrocities and rebrand itself as a world-class cultural attraction.
Yair Bekier, a founder of Round Tables, recently boasted that the initiative serves to strengthen “Israel’s status as a gastronomic capital on a global scale.”
But Israel’s gastro-diplomacy mask “is wearing thin as the state entrenches its extremely violent policies and racist laws,” stated the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI).
“The campaign has been pretty successful,” Danielle Ravitzki, an activist with Boycott from Within told The Electronic Intifada.
“The truth about Israel is getting more and more apparent, and more and more scholars, artists and chefs are realizing that Israel is attempting to use them in order to whitewash its crimes,” Ravitzki said.
Thirteen chefs were scheduled to cook at the 2016 Round Tables event, with one top chef pulling out and others expressing misgivings about taking part after being contacted by activists.
This year, only eight chefs agreed to participate, but at least two of them canceled.
There were earlier indications that Italian chef Isa Mazzocchi was no longer participating in the initiative. But on Thursday, the chef had posted a photo to her Facebook page with the menu for her planned Round Tables meal and the caption “Last service, 170 people – let’s go.”
Round Tables is sponsored by Israel’s foreign ministry as well as corporate underwriters American Express and Infiniti, and is partnered with Israeli companies that operate in settlements built on stolen Palestinian land.
“It is not too late for the remaining chefs to stand on the right side of history and cancel their participation in Round Tables,” PACBI stated last week.
A feminist facade
Bekier claimed that this year’s events intend to “bring women to the forefront” of the culinary stage by inviting only female chefs to participate.
But this attempt to brand the initiative as a celebration of women in the culinary field is merely a “feminist facade” to provide cover for Israel’s ongoing occupation and apartheid system, say members of the General Union of Palestinian Women, along with Palestinian workers and farmers organizations.
“Palestinian women bear the brunt of this system’s crimes and are doubly marginalized as a result,” their statement says.
“Regardless of your intentions, Israel’s far-right regime will use your participation to mask its crimes against our people,” the groups add.
“We sincerely hope that we can share our table with you after we are free from military occupation and apartheid.”
The Asymmetrical Table
Inspired by the Palestinian campaign against Round Tables, culinary activists in New York City last year brought lauded Oakland-based chef and activist Reem Assil to cook for an initiative they named The Asymmetrical Table.
It was a celebration of Palestinian food and culture intended to coincide with the Round Tables propaganda campaign.
For two nights, diners celebrated “the resiliency of Palestinian people, led by Palestinian women [and] badass chefs,” said Kimberly Chou, co-director of the Food Book Fair, in a new short film about the event.
The letter represents a display of solidarity and leadership of indigenous, black and brown chefs, farmers, food writers and other culinary organizers and workers “who have been not only fighting for food sovereignty and access for their own communities but demanding that the interconnectedness between food systems and struggles for justice globally be acknowledged and guide our work,” Wise told The Electronic Intifada on Thursday.
In the restaurant world, it is understood that locally-sourced “farm to table” cuisine is the ideal. But as Israel’s Round Tables festival claims to celebrate this cuisine, Wise noted, “Palestinian farmers, if they’ve managed to remain on their land and not had their crops damaged by settlers, cannot get their produce through checkpoints onto the tables of their communities who live in refugee camps unable to return to their own lands.”
And as Americans enjoy traditional Palestinian dishes and ingredients such as hummus, zaatar and labneh, “the land and culture they originated in are being destroyed,” Wise said.
The growing support for the Palestinian call to boycott Round Tables, she added, “is the result of our collective understanding that our values around good food and freedom must include Palestinians, a people surviving and resisting apartheid and the theft of their land.”