Sabra hummus comes with human rights concerns


Every once in a while a campus community decides there are just certain products they'd rather have over others.

DePauw recently switched from Coke to Pepsi in order to save a million-dollar pretty penny, but the motivations aren't always financial. Indeed, DePauw has also started sourcing more local meats and produce as well as selling cage-free eggs instead of eggs from chickens raised in battery cages.

These decisions are the result of social demands of the student body rather than financial demands of the university's balance sheets and they serve to make a strong statement regarding the campus's culture.

I think that means we need to figure out what to do about our hummus.

Sodexo currently provides two brands of hummus on DePauw's campus. You can get individual snack packs of Sabra hummus with pretzel chips or more dedicated chickpea lovers can get larger tubs in the Den if they're willing to supply their own chips.

I would say that the unnecessary packaging of Sabra's individual snack solution is reason enough to drop it, but I've recently learned that students at Princeton University and DePaul University felt the inclusion of the snack on cafeteria shelves gave cause for not only environmental concerns but also human rights concerns.

One of Sabra's parent companies of partial ownership, The Strauss Group, is an Israeli company which operates in 20 countries around the world and prides itself on its ability to tailor its product offerings to local tastes. Like many large corporations, The Strauss Group dedicates a small portion of their profits and products to charitable efforts, but how does that translate into a human rights controversy?

The human rights concerns mix with hummus because one such charitable effort of the Group is their support of the Golani and Givati brigades, two Israeli brigades charged with human rights violations in Palestine by such groups as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

The Golani and Givati brigades have been charged and here I can only attest to the charges themselves and not their validity, with using children as human shields and authorizing the use of white phosphorus as a chemical weapon on Palestinian citizens.

Princeton's Committee on Palestine and DePaul's Students for Justice in Palestine saw the relationship between the Strauss Group and as a reason to boycott the product and asked their university's to do the same.

However, Andrew Silow-Carroll of New Jersey Jewish News points out in his article "Boycotts, deception, sanctions" that the relationship between the company and the brigades is no stronger than Kraft's relationship to American soldiers in Iraq and sees equating the two as an unfair representation of a the relationship and The Strauss Group itself.

Whether or not you see the provision of material support as an endorsement for alleged war crimes or the boycotting of Sabra as an expression of advocating for a one-state Palestinian solution (a claim Silow-Caroll later makes, though it is one I personally view as a bit more tenuous), this might be a conversation worth having on our campus and at our dinner tables.

I'm not the type to call for bans of any product, but if the claims levied against the brigades by students at DePaul are true, then I would certainly be willing to personally switch my hummus brands, even if The Strauss Goup doesn't support the brigades as "strongly" as these students imply.

As more and more corporations become the political positions they support, the charitable efforts they support and the labor relations they represent, our role as consumers becomes drastically different.

It requires not just an assessment of price and quality, but personal mores and integrity as well. We vote at the polls with relative frequency, but we vote with our dollars constantly.

— Cheeseman is a senior political science and biology double major from West Lafayette, Ind.