Israeli hummus brand spreads tension at UCR

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Courtesy of Sabra
Courtesy of Sabra

UCR officials have decided to continue selling Sabra brand hummus on campus after initially complying with a pro-Palestinian student organization’s request to recall the brand from university convenience stores due to the company’s ties to Israel.

After being sold on campus for only a few months, the brand was taken off UCR shelves at the beginning of spring quarter when Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) sent a letter to Dining Services requesting the school uphold “Tartan Soul,” which encourages integrity, and cease supporting a company that allegedly contributes to human rights violations.

“Many of us students are concerned about UCR affiliating with a company with such strong military and political ties,” read the letter.

SJP has previously been active in efforts to divest from companies that invest in Israel, including last year’s ASUCR divestment resolution.

The Strauss Group, an Israeli food products manufacturer and the company that owns the Sabra brand, is no stranger to controversy. The company came under fire in 2010 for providing care packages to the Golani Brigade, an Israeli infantry unit that has been active in recent conflicts between Israel and Palestine. It is unclear whether the Strauss Group still has any connections with the Israeli military.

UCR students spent only a few weeks without Sabra hummus before it was returned to the shelves, however. University officials have stated that the decision to discontinue the brand on campus was a “mistake,” and that they do not wish to cater to one side of a political rift.

“The product was changed due to consideration for student preferences without consideration of the political issues raised,” said Vice Chancellor for Strategic Communications James Grant. “In trying to be responsive to student taste preferences, a decision was made without proper consideration.”

Sabra was initially replaced with Tapaz2Go, a North American, gluten-free brand of hummus. UCR will now sell both brands, according to Grant.

Students from institutions across the U.S. have extended similar efforts to boycott the brand, including groups at Princeton and Wesleyan Universities, but most attempts have proven unsuccessful.

Despite SJP’s efforts to have the brand removed, many UCR students are unperturbed both by the company’s political affiliations and the school’s decision to continue patronizing it.

“I think it’s a little too extreme to be paying so much attention to hummus. Other things are happening around the world and we get products from other places that are being oppressed or are oppressing,” said fourth-year psychology major Abraham Leyva.

Physics graduate student Jon Spalding agreed. “I think the Palestinian students are venting their anger at Israel in an inappropriate way,” he said, saying that students would be better off focusing their efforts on the school’s sale of unhealthy beverages.

Tina Matar, SJP member and author of the letter, however, sees UCR’s backtracking on the issue as a “slap in the face.”

“This is a move to silence the students of UCR and disregard their concerns, especially from the Palestinian community,” Matar said. “I just wanted to show the people of UCR and the school that we should not sit silent while we allow our school to sell unethical products.”

Matar said she and other concerned students will continue to organize regarding the issue. “We will definitely not let this silencing and slap in the face go unnoticed.”

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