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Israel Did Not Appropriate Arab Cuisine

Israel Did Not Appropriate Arab Cuisine

Falafel on a wooden table. (Dimitril Ivanov/Dreamstime) 

By Friday, 13 September 2019 11:07 AM Current | Bio | Archive

Another battle is being waged in the Mideast, and the intensity keeps rising.

This battle, as if they don't have enough to fight about — is over food.

Yes, a food fight, Mideast style.

For years, Arabs have accused Israel of appropriating their food and making it "Israeli."

They claim that falafel is not Israeli food, it is Arab food.

They claim that humus is not Israeli, it's Arab food.

The assertion is that just about any of the foods created by Israeli chefs is, in fact, a rip-off of Arab food. Now labeneh, or laben, a goat cheese yogurt is on the proverbial chopping block.

Enemies of Israel say that Zionists should create their own culture, not expropriate it from the Arab culture that surrounds them. They say that appropriating their foods is another example of Israeli occupation. Israelis, they say, are not only stealing Arab land and Arab culture, Israeli is stealing Arab — or Palestinian, food too.

Israeli chefs and Israel's culinary creativity have become world famous.

And while many of the dishes borrow from the region, to suggest that Israeli Jews stole the culture is, simply put, preposterous.

These attackers want Israel to be seen by the world as interlopers, replanted into the Mideast from Europe. But in reality, most Israelis are descendants of Jews from Arab lands  — not from Europe.

Only part of Israel's culture comes from Europe, much more of Israeli culture, including food, originates in the Arab world.

Israel is not different from any other immigrant country in the world.

Their food is a unique blend.

It's a product of the immigrant's earlier lives and the immigrants modify the food to accommodate to local weather, local supplies and local tastes.

Take a look around the culinary world. Japanese tradition is steeped in history.

The rice and sea weed food that Americans call sushi is a joke in Tokyo. California rolls?

Baked salmon sushi?

An aspiring sushi chef in Japan (Itamae) will spend up to 20 years training and apprenticeship. Here sushi is prepared and sold in pizza shops and local delis.

And Chow Mein?

Chicken Chow Mein is not even a Chinese dish. It is an American creation.

Australian Chow Mein is crispy and Mexican Chow Mein replaces the traditional elements with local Mexican spices.

Chow Mein really just means stir fried noodles.

Chow means to saute, as in stir fry and mein, in Chinese, means noodles.

Italian pizza (from Italy) is nothing like Ray's Famous or Dominos.

American pizza is different.

There is a multi-billion dollar a year difference. On any given day in the U.S. 13% of Americans consume pizza. No proud Italian is calling it a rip off.

Several years ago the "Guinness Book of World Records" recorded that the winner of the world's largest portion of humus was in Abu Ghosh, an Arab village just outside of Jerusalem.

During Israel's 1948 War of Independence the townspeople of Abu Ghosh decided to side with Israel and fought arm-in-arm with Israel against their Arab neighbors. Abu Ghosh, still remains an Arab town and still remains part of Israel. Because of that affiliation they have prospered. And for that same reason, Abu Ghosh was vilified, not praised, for their humus honor.

Several years ago, in honor of New York's Israel Day Parade, I was asked to be a Guinness judge for the largest of all falafel balls. It was huge and very heavy, very official and lots of fun.

The late, former District Attorney Robert Morgenthau was the other judge.

These foods all originated in one place, but, like the immigrants the food has travelled — sometimes across oceans, sometimes across borders. And like the immigrants the longer the food is in the host country, the more it adapts and acculturates and assimilates.

That is part of the beauty of immigration.

After the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 almost all Jews of all Arab and Muslim countries were expelled. 850,000 Jews, nearly 1 million people, were expelled from their homes and became refugees. About 85% of them came to Israel.

The numbers are mind numbing.

Algeria 165,000, Morocco 240,000, Iraq 135,000.

Almost all ran for their lives, many were murdered rushing out in what became a mass exodus from Arab countries.

They left with the shirts on the backs and with their traditions — their very rich and proud traditions and especially with their recipes and food.

Israel did not steal the food of the Arab world.

They did not appropriate it. Some Jewish communities dated back thousands of years, to a time way before there was Islam.

To a time when the tribes were pagans and Jews were the only monotheists.

The modern state of Israel is cutting edge in so many ways, not just biotech and computers but also in theater, music and in the culinary arts.

World class chefs of Israel have embraced their past traditions and created new and uniquely Israeli dishes based on their past.

It's part of what makes Israel so interesting and so very Israeli.

Micah Halpern is a political and foreign affairs commentator. He founded "The Micah Report" and hosts "Thinking Out Loud with Micah Halpern" a weekly TV program and "My Chopp" a daily radio spot. A dynamic speaker, he specializes in analyzing world events and evaluating their relevance and impact. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern. To read more of this reports — Click Here Now.

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Israel did not steal the food of the Arab world. They did not appropriate it. Some Jewish communities dated back thousands of years, to a time way before there was Islam. To a time when the tribes were pagans and Jews were the only monotheists.
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Friday, 13 September 2019 11:07 AM
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