Note: This is the second of three posts I wrote about the Israeli Mezze Station story that went viral and propelled a beautifully insane wave of supportive responses from people around the world. Harvard Business School expressed regret for the unintentional offense and issued a very gracious and responsible reply, found here below. This (quite long) follow-up post can also be found on Facebook; I group all my different replies to different groups. After this post, some Israeli-sympathizers expressed anger over this issue, sometimes quite personally. So I wrote a third and last follow-up post, an open letter to Israel, which can also be read on Facebook or on my website here. 

Alright my good friends, let’s wrap this up.

On October 28th in the year of our lord 2012, I posted a post about an Israeli Mezze Station Menu at the Harvard Business School dining room that I was not very happy about. The menu featured a wide array of typical Arabic and Mediterranean dishes, which as far as we’re all concerned should not be called Israeli the same way I cannot be called Israeli. It turns out I wasn’t the only one who felt unhappy about the false content of the menu… Within five days of my posting, the “shares” had climbed from 1 to 1,000 (with my knowledge of mathematics, that’s a whole increase of 000.) Then, literally overnight, the shares doubled to 2,000. Then kept climbing over the next week to 3,400+, all the while being accompanied by a generous 4,700+ likes and 270+ beautiful comments (we’ll define beautiful later).

Without me having to exert much effort, it was the virulence of your likes and shares, as well as the respectful way that everybody connected with their humor and frustration, that has caught the attention of the key people. Last week, I received an official, gracious response from Harvard Business School through Mr. Brian Kenny, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at HBS less than 24 hours after reaching out to them. He has kindly requested I share with you his response on behalf of Dean Nohria and Harvard Business School:

“As you can imagine we’ve been following the responses to your post since it first went up last week. [..] [our] response is essentially a mea culpa on the part of the school. Clearly we didn’t do enough to verify the the accuracy of the Israeli Mezze station menu. You correctly called us on it and struck a chord with thousands of others in the process. The fact that we offended people is deeply troubling, particularly considering that our reason for having the international buffets each day is to celebrate cultural diversity. We take such things very seriously. From the moment we first saw your post we began having extensive conversations internally and with Restaurant Associates to understand why this happened and how we can prevent it from happening again.” 

To which I answered:

“Dear Mr. Kenny,
I appreciate the time and effort you took to understand and commiserate with us about the sensitivity of this issue. Naturally, I knew that HBS would react properly, which maybe lets us see that we Arabs (even the more educated–Harvard Arabs) may be placing too hard of a stigma on American biased responses when it comes to Israel. […] While my Arab colleagues’ pessimism concerning evenhanded American responses is not founded on illusion (we have tons of history to prove American bias), your response has proven that it is still worth reaching out when we feel trampled on. […] So thank you for that, this will bring relief to many. 
Since your comment is positive, if you don’t mind, I will post it on my facebook wall, as I am writing a follow-up answer to the commotion that was caused. Do you mind?
Thank you again for your response. I look forward to posting a picture on my wall of an HBS authentic Arabic [sic. Middle Eastern] Mezze station, I think this will assuage everybody who feel they have been deprived of their identity. And kindly let me know when you do so, it would be an amazing response from HBS.”

To which he graciously responded:

“[…] Please do feel free to post my response on your page. […] We truly understand the reaction and the sensitivities of the Arab community. […] In the meantime, RA [Restaurant Associates, the catering company] asked me if they could post their own apology. They dont want to offend further but they would like people to know how sorry they are. […] As for the Arabic Mezze station, I will have them get to work on that right away.” 

Ladies and gentlemen, here are the conclusions of this story:

1. Mark Zuckerberg has a good thing going.

2. Harvard Business School is the world’s leading business school for a reason.

3. You guys rock.

As a wrap-up to this wonderful story, I would finally like to personalize a few direct messages to those who became active on my facebook post:

I. To my fellow Arabs: 

I am so proud. I am so damn proud.

Never did I expect that a rant about food would go viral in such a comical way. I would literally sit behind my laptop and giggle out loud while I read your comments.

You have shown the world that you can be outrageously funny even in your frustration. The comments on your shares, and on the post thread itself are priceless. The comments were intelligent. They were perceptive. They were cultivated. They were bold. They were kind. And most important, they were respectful. And they were hilarious. I mean the sheer thought of someone disrespecting our food seems to bring out Hercules on a Saturday Night Live show in everyone.

I am proud of the amount of importance this has garnered because although the virulence is rooted in frustration, it has not manifested itself in brutality. In fact, quite the opposite. It has manifested itself as a humorous wave of frustration. And let’s face it, it is rare for the spotlight to be given to Arabs without some explosives in the background. Maybe the news channels have to start coming into our kitchens more often. “Look, no bombs. We are just fanning our zaatar.”

Other than adhering to their honorable ethics and values, I believe what made Harvard Business School respond so well to the post was the positivity and the unanimity of the Arab voice.

People on the thread liked other people’s comments even if they didn’t know them. People defended one another. People have even quoted one another. We were one united voice. And look at what ensued, Harvard Business School understood and responded, and the Israeli Mezze Station is no longer.

And for the one or two offensive self-designated Zionists who spoke on the thread (they then deleted their comments), the Arab responses were diplomatic, respectful and solid. There was no destructive hatred against Israel, it was just “calling them out” rightfully so. Thank you for that.

I hope we understand from this that a unified, respectful voice can go very far. And all the stigmas we hold about each other may probably be let down once and for all. As much as great American institutions like Harvard University may have intelligence and even be decision makers on the world chess map, sometimes they simply do not have the appropriate intel to do the “right” things despite their resources and brain power. They just need to be appropriately informed, preferably via non-suicidal bomb attacks, about why what they are doing is very controversial, and often just false. Hopefully, the dialogue scene will then open up with spotlight being given to us, the cultivated, respectful Arabs, and stop being given to the angry, violent ones, even if the angry, violent ones have very valid reasons to be angry.

Thank you for being so fantastic. Your comments and opinions will always be welcome on my future posts.

II. To HBS: 

The way you have handled this situation is mature and responsible. You have shown the world that with actions comes responsibility regardless of where you may really stand on fault and blame. Even if you do outsource your catering services, you did not even use that as an excuse. You honored your responsibility because it was important for you to honor our culture and heritage. I reiterate that I hope the world now understand that a blind all-encompassing biased stance at the expense of Arab honor does not necessarily go hand in hand with American institutions all the time. If such an attitude is officially carried out by the US administration on Capitol Hill, it will certainly save many American flags from burning around the world, and peace will ensue in the world. This is a beautiful message. So thank you for that.

III. To the journalists who reported about my post: 

Thank you for the coverage, my mother appreciates it. Although some of the articles missed the humor, (some made it sound like we were angry because someone died in our hummus), for what it’s worth, I am very grateful for the coverage.

The articles are on my wall for everybody to see.

IV. To the people of Israel and/or friends of Israel who interacted with the post: 

Good morning.

I have divided you into three groups.
1) The ones that argue with one of two arguments (to be answered below)
2) The ones that answered with hatred (and many then delete their comments)
3) The nice people, or those who liked and shared my post in positive light

Please read:

1) To Group number 1: 

To those who believe that Israeli food is “fusion food” resulting from Jewish immigrants coming from different places of origin.

Let me explain what fusion food is.

Fusion, from latin fusio meaning “to melt”, is the process of joining two (or more) things together to form a single entity. Single entity being the keywords here. This means that in order for it to be called “fusion food”, it would have to incorporate elements of diverse cuisines _within the same dish_.

Example 1: California maki rolls. Maki Roll=traditional Japanese rice rolled over nori seaweed with raw fish –> Stuff it with non-crab crab sticks (American) and avocado (staple of California apparently) –> fusion mix is created –> California roll!
Can you find a California roll in a typical Tokyo sushi restaurant? No, the Japanese would shoot themselves. Did Californians take hosomaki and claim it to be American? No, the Japanese would jujutsu them like there’s no tomorrow.

But this is what YOU did: Hummus=Typical Arabic Levantine dish –> Put Israeli flag on it –> Israeli Hummus!

Not gonna work. To put it mildly, that makes for copyright infringement. You are more than welcome to eat our food, as long as you give credit where credit is due, and in your case it is “everywhere”.

Otherwise, feel free to mash the chickpeas then shove the couscous in there, drench it with olive oil then top it with matzah balls and call it Israeli matzah ball-maftoul. Then in that case, it’s all yours. (Actually, you may have to credit me for that one. So to be safe, just come up with your own.)

– To those who say that Israelis have been “eating these foods for centuries” because of all the Israeli Arab Jews who immigrated to Israel: 

Let’s talk about the Arab Jews for a bit, shall we? Here are some numbers that everybody in the world should know about Israel, including Israelis who apparently don’t know their own country:

According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, as of May 2006, of Israel’s 7 million people, 77% were Jews, 18.5% Arabs, and 4.3% “others”. Among Jews, 68% were Sabras (Israeli-born), mostly second- or third-generation Israelis, and the rest are Olim — 22% from Europe and the Americas, and 10% from Asia and Africa, including the Arab countries. (See for yourselfhttp://www1.cbs.gov.il/shnaton56/st02_24.pdf)

Let’s try to account for the number of Jews from Arab descent (both Sabras and Olim) and see if your argument makes sense.

  • Before the Balfour Declaration, in 1914, there were 60,000 Jews in Palestine (7.5% of the total population of Palestine.) With a 2% yearly population increase (reported by the Israeli Government http://www.cbs.gov.il/shnaton62/st03_13.pdf), that puts them at around 417,000 today. With a life expectancy of 81 years old in Israel, at least 100,000 of them have died already. So to be generous, we’ll say that 317,000 remain.
  • In 1948, there were approximately 800,000 Jews who lived in the Arab world. By 1967, 500,000 of them ended up in Israel, the rest just dispersed around the world. Accounting for the same reported 2% yearly increase in population, this puts them at around 1.2 million today. 
  • To put all odds on your side, let us add the reported 10% from Asia and Africa (even if they surely are not all Arabs), that’s 154,000 more people. 

–> So: 317,000+1,100,000+154,000 = ~1.4 million Jews of Arab descent.

So what about the other 4 million immigrants who came from non-Arab countries since 1948? They’re the majority. Don’t they get to have a say in this? Why isn’t Russian pirozhki an Israeli dish too? or Italian gnocchi?

Do you really mean to tell us that 1.5 million Arab Jews have dictated to 7 million Israelis what they were going to eat? We won’t believe it… Because that would mean that you guys got whipped. And we’ve been at war with you, and it is NOT easy to whip you guys.

2) To group number 2: The haters

I am glad we have this open channel.

Some of you are Israeli, some are non-Israeli Jews, some are right-wing white American mustached old men (?). The positive part is that you were not many.

Let me start off by saying that responding with hatred and showing your annoyance at my post by “making fun” of the plight of the Palestinians or aggressing peaceful people on the thread is embarrassing for you more than for anyone else. The proof is you delete your comments soon after you realize that you have angered nobody, and how ill-founded your words are. The best minds of the world will tell you that nobody has ever won a debate by “making fun” of anyone else. It doesn’t work. If you call your adversary “childish” or “ridiculous” with no constructive argument, it doesn’t make your argument stronger. In fact, it does just the opposite, it makes you lose your ground, if you have one. You might be too used to winning all your battles easily because you have been used to employing force and you have never been forced to sit at a table and look us in the eye and speak constructive arguments, but soon, you’re gonna have to learn. Saying things along the lines of “what a sad life Arabs have” or “haha well the pesky Palestinians still don’t have a home” or by criticizing my family picture, makes for emotional terrorism, rather than constructive argument. And it makes your country and your cause look very bad.

To put it in mild terms, you and us, we have a very strained relationship. By we I mean we Arabs and you Israelis and friends of Israel. And whether we like it or not, we’re gonna have to work it out one of these days. Now, there are two scenarios that might make our relationship work:

One of us disappears. 2. We coexist.

The first scenario is not going to happen for a couple of reasons. First because it will have to entail a full-blown catastrophe (war, genocide, famine, epidemic…) that will require unimaginably precise and rapid results, but it is highly implausible that there would be ZERO survivors left on one camp only. The only recorded history of a vanishing race due to one of the above mentioned catastrophes is that of very, very old and isolated civilizations who were not connected to an outside world and who did not have online dating. Not today’s case, and certainly not your case (on both counts).
Second, it is scientifically impossible to cause the “disappearance” of anything within the boundaries of our physical world. The French genius Antoine Lavoisier, the father of modern chemistry, has stated in his law of conservation of mass that in matter “nothing gets destroyed, nothing gets created, everything only mutates.” The mass (and energy since e=mc2) of an isolated system can neither be created nor destroyed, but it will be rearranged in space and changed into different types of particles. So no one is going nowhere. We might all just mutate into something weirder, like fusion food… but we won’t ever disappear.

So you see, we’re stuck with the second scenario of coexistence. And hatred is obviously not the answer. So we need to back off our hatred. But who will start?

Let me lay out a map for you to understand the danger of “Israeli haters” versus “Arab haters” and your responsibilities.

  • The Arab world has 76.9% literacy rate where for 100 literate men there are 69 literate women. Israel has 95.4% literacy rate, with equal literacy between men and women.
  • In the Arab world, women are still constitutionally denied equal opportunity. In Israel, they are not. 
  • In the entire Arab world, for 400 million people we have had 6 Nobel Prize Laureates (two of whom, Sadat and Arafat, have shared it with Israelis.) In Israel, for 7 million people, you have had 10 Nobel Prize Laureates (including Begin and Rabin.) Now you do the comparative math since you’re obviously way better at it. 
  • In the Arab world, 19 of the 22 Arab League countries are ranked in the lowest range “red zone” of the Democracy Index , i.e. in the “authoritarian regimes” zone, within the same range as North Korea. Lebanon, Iraq, and Palestine are the only three who ranked a bit higher as ‘hybrid democracies’ with Lebanon being the leading scorer. Yet Lebanon is still ranked at #94 in the world with a low democratic score of 5 over 10. Israel ranks 36 in the world with a score of 7.8 less than 1 point away from being considered a “full democracy”, a title given to only 25 countries in the world which also happen to be the most developed countries of the world.
  • The Arab world has the highest rate of unemployment among youth in the entire world. The average unemployment in the Arab region is 14.4%, compared with 7% in Israel and 6.3% for the rest of the world. (FYI, Gaza is at 37.8% unemployment and West Bank at 17.2%)
  • Approximately 5,000 books are published annually in Israel. In the entire Arab world, it accounts for less than that. The average person in the Arab world reads no more than four pages a year according to a UN survey of 2008. And get this: the total number of books translated into Arabic during the 1,000 years since the age of 9th century Caliph Al-Ma’moun to this day is less than those translated in Spain in one year. World Press. 
  • Finally, the GDP of Israel alone is greater than that of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine and Iraq combined. That’s 7 million Israelis generating more money than 68 million Levantine/Mesopotamian peeps. The only other region of the world with an income level lower than ours is sub-Saharan Africa (yes and we have oil). 

Now you tell me, which is more dangerous: an Israeli hater or an Arab hater? … Unfortunately for us, an Israeli hater is far more vicious by all shots and all standards because there is nothing more dangerous than a hateful, violent educated person as there is nothing you can say to that person anymore. There is nothing more dangerous than hatred that is bred in a thriving, developed environment like the Israeli one; whereas hatred in a harsh, sadistic environment (like the Arabic one) is only normal.

In the Arab world, we don’t have the same tools to resort to when we have a conundrum or a problem to solve. We don’t have the same freedoms, the same hopes, the same defenses you have. We don’t vote our laws, we don’t vote our leaders, we don’t have job opportunities, we are not educated, our women suffer from gender inequalities, our governance is plagued with corruption and nepotism, and the world doesn’t grant us visas because other countries qualify us as “high security risks” at all their borders. The world, as well as you, cannot expect from us what should be expected from you.

We are doing our best to get better, starting with gaining freedoms and respect. Have you seen the recent surge of Arab spring? What do you think this is? Some masochistic dudes who like to get their teeth smashed, their nails pulled out and their bodies mutilated just for the fun of it? No. It is the Arab world’s gamble at freedom, something that you guys never have to gamble for anymore.

We are not equal. And therefore, our blames are not equal. Our faults are not equal. And our mistakes are certainly not equal. Your responsibilities are bigger, and your stakes are higher; and as such, an Israeli hater should be made unacceptable and unjustifiable in your society.

So revoke that role. Acknowledge your incredible responsibility. And when you finally do that, maybe less people will want to throw rockets on Israel, and finally righteous peace may ensue.

3) To group number 3: The nice Israelis, or the ones who liked and shared the post in positive light

For those who wrote in Hebrew, it took me a while to decipher some of your words as Google Translate always leaves out one damn keyword in Hebrew which renders the entire message cryptic. Like: “Hey guys, read this! She makes a טוב point!” Yeah. Thanks Google.

Well it turns out some of you are funny. And I just want to say thank you. I appreciate that. In fact, believe me, we all appreciate that.

People like you are the only ones who may be able to mobilize some serious change in order for some humorous peace to ensue. I hope you affect your compatriots into adopting your positive behaviors, and may people like you reach leadership positions, and spread goodness around them. I wish you guys all the best.

V. To world friends who liked and shared the post: 
Americans, Canadians, Europeans, Asians, Persians, Turks, Latinos, Africans, Australians. Thank you. Perhaps you have good Arab friends, or perhaps you appreciate culinary history, or maybe you just enjoyed my post, in all cases, your involvement in the virulence of the thread is much appreciated. I hope you know that your educated judgments and opinions on the situation of the Arab world will be the main catalysts for peace in our region… May you always remain our friends, and keep an eye and your heart on us.

VI. To my three brothers: Nothing. Just wanna tell everyone I have three mighty brothers… you know, just in case.

VII. To Mom: For someone who is new to social media, you have managed to garner the highest number of likes on your comments. And may I add that 95% of them are people who have never met you (or me). You are the one that is larger than life, not me, for your heart and soul are both worth their weight in cosmic splendidness. And if I end up having 10% of that, then I might as well be the luckiest girl in the world.

VIII. To Dad who was confused by the number of people asking him for his opinion on the Israeli Gas Station: I will send you the post by fax.

IX. To me: Onwards.

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