Note: The original post started on Facebook. Do go through the comments, they are hilarious. Harvard Business School replied with a very gracious, responsible response, which really set a noble example proving that with dialogue and a little bit of humor, everything can potentially be solved. I thus wrote a response post that can be read on Facebook or on my website, which also went viral. There is a third and final follow-up post, which is an open letter to Israel, that I wrote after a series of articles erupted across the web condemning me and Harvard University for not eating Israeli food; that can also be read on Facebook or on my website. The morale of the story is not so much that the Arab world won a food battle against Israel, but that humor and knowledge can go very, very far in speaking to and for the dignity of people.
Alright Harvard Business School, let’s have a word or two.
I understand that you like to “change” things in your dining room every once in a while to tickle the palate of the HBS kids who have a tendency to grow blasé rather quickly of your stationary Italian, Asian, & Micronesian stations, so you feel the need to spice it up with an occasional exotic nationality… but this, THIS, is where we draw the line. Israeli food station? Hold your breath.
1. Harissa (هريسة) is a Tunisian and Libyan hot chili sauce whose main ingredient is piri piri. Piri piri grows in the wild in Africa. → Since Israel is not in Africa, Harissa is not Israeli.
2. Couscous (كسكس) is a Maghrebian dish, a staple food throughout Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, and Libya. Not Israeli. As for “Israeli couscous”, the real name is “Maftoul” (مفتول), which is a Palestinian dish of Couscous.
3. Fattūsh (فتوش) is a word made of Arabic fatt “crush” and the suffix of Turkic origin -ūsh. Coining words this way was common in Syrian Arabic as well as in other dialects of Arabic. → Unless Israel’s main language is Arabic, this too is NOT Israeli.
4. Halloumi (χαλούμι) is a Cypriot semi-hard, unripened brined cheese made from a mixture of goats’ and sheep milk. It’s not even ARABIC. So seriously, your “fuck-you” is not even centered around Arabs, it’s going west. → Until Cyprus becomes another conquered Israeli territory, Halloumi is considered NOT Israeli.
5. Hummus (حُمُّص): Let’s get to the bottom of this once and for all. Hummus is an Arabic word meaning “chickpeas.” Ok? It is an Arabic word. As far as “Israelis” are concerned, they don’t speak Arabic. So unless you change your primary language, you have no argument here. The earliest documented recipe for something similar to modern hummus dates to 13th Century (CE) Egypt. → Since Israel was created in 1948, Israel is NOT 13th CENTURY EGYPT! And Hummus is therefore NOT ISRAELI.
6. Tahini (طحينه): ONE: Tahini is a loanword from Arabic: طحينة, or more accurately ṭaḥīnīa طحينية, and is derived from the root ط ح ن Ṭ-Ḥ-N which as a verb طحن ṭaḥan which means “to grind.” TWO: You can only make Hummus with Tahini, since it is the second main ingredient. → As per the argument of Hummus, we conclude that Tahini is NOT Israeli.
7. Zaatar (زَعْتَر): Alright. Zaatar is THYME. It is a Middle-Eastern plant. It grows in Palestine and other land areas. Since Israel is modern-day Palestine, then I can see why you would like to make that plant Israeli. And you might be able to get away with it. But get this: Zaatar is an Arabic word. So, to make your argument more solid, why don’t you use a Hebrew word for it? Like “שקר”, which is hebrew for LIE.
8. Mezze (in the title): This word (which refers to a selection of small dishes) comes from the Turkish meze ‘taste, flavour, snack, relish’, borrowed from Persian مزه (maze ‘taste, snack’ < mazīdan ‘to taste’) and/or the Greek version mezés (μεζές). SO TURKISH, PERSIAN and GREEK → NOT ISRAELI.
9. “Sweet & Sour”: This draws the f*ckin limit. Now this sure isn’t Arabic, but I would like to see Chinatown respond to this.
Dear HBS, that “Israeli Mezze Station” is the ultimate multicultural, multireligious fuck-you in the face of ALL Arabs at once from North Africa to the Levant… (while engaging a small spit on the Cypriots)… NINE counts.
If you insist on giving no honor to the Arabs (many of whom are Harvard students/alumni- “hi!”), and/or if you insist on never ever speaking of Arabs in culinary worth (since we’re only ever referred to as warmongers and terrorists), at least have the decency of calling it MEDITERRANEAN MEZZE STATION.
Israel already has a hard time keeping face in the Arab world for the way it has “appropriated” its lands since 1948, don’t make it worse for them by having them appropriate other peoples’ foods as well.
“Before placing your order, please inform your server if a person in your party is an Islamic fundamentalist and/or has ties to the Chinese government. We will rectify the nationality of your dish accordingly.
(Picture taken by my dear friend/Harvard classmate “Mohamed El Dahshan” two days ago in the Harvard Business School Dining Room)