This Absurd & Offensive Story Represents How U.S. Jewish Institutions Often Misrepresent U.S. Jews

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This is a strange and deeply revealing story.
It is the story of how a major American (and global) Jewish organization attacked Teresa Heinz Kerry and the Heinz Foundation as an expression of “pro-Israel” support. It is the story of how food wrappers used by a tiny restaurant in Pittsburgh, Conflict Kitchen, became the launching pad for this attack. And it is the story of simultaneous silence and complicity when a top Israeli politician effectively embraced Apartheid in The New York Times.
The Story of Conflict Kitchen
To begin, we must tell the story of Conflict Kitchen. Established in 2010 by Carnegie Mellon University art professor Jon Rubin and Pittsburgh artist Dawn Weleski, the take-out restaurant was begun as an experimental, cultural project. Its vision: introduce local citizens to the foods of those peoples with whom the United States is in conflict. Here is how the restaurant articulates this vision:

Conflict Kitchen is a restaurant that only serves cuisine from countries with which the United States is in conflict. Each Conflict Kitchen iteration is augmented by events, performances, publications, and discussions that seek to expand the engagement the public has with the culture, politics, and issues at stake within the focus region. The restaurant rotates identities every few months in relation to current geopolitical events.

It’s a beautiful, noble project – the type of initiative which should be replicated across the United States. So what’s the problem, or faux problem? Conflict Kitchen’s newest iteration is Palestinian cuisine, which Pittsburgh Jewish organizations immediately assailed as anti-Israel and illegitimate. The argument being that “Palestine” is not technically in “conflict” with the United States, despite the fact that many Palestinians feel otherwise, since America is Israel’s principal military backer – the same military which supports Israel’s decades-old occupation of Palestinians in the West Bank and repeatedly attacks Gaza.
The “controversy” which resulted after Conflict Kitchen was labeled as anti-Israel has created two outcomes. First, Conflict Kitchen’s newest iteration, Palestinian cuisine, has become its most popular, and has garnered the tiny pop-up restaurant national attention (not to mention hundreds of new customers who never would have known about the restaurant’s existence). Second, this national attention Conflict Kitchen garnered placed it in the crosshairs of a major Jewish institution intent on cutting off its funding.
The Story of B’nai B’rith and its Attack on Heinz
B’nai B’rith International is a global, impactful Jewish organization housed in Washington, D.C. which advertises itself as a champion of human rights, a promoter of Jewish unity and a staunch defender of Israel. Throughout its history, it has done wonderful work in many areas of importance, including global human rights. However, there’s one people for whom B’nai B’rith does not champion human rights: Palestinians.
This revealed itself recently when B’nai B’rith, a global institution, sharpened its focus on Pittsburgh’s tiny take-out restaurant. Upon learning that Heinz Endowments, chaired by Teresa Heinz Kerry, provided Conflict Kitchen with a $50,000 grant in 2013 for its exemplary work, B’nai B’rith publicly attacked Heinz Endowments for financially supporting what it wrongly views as an anti-Israel initiative.
What was singled out as being anti-Israel? The wrappers Conflict Kitchen uses on its food, which contains the voices of Palestinians interviewed both in Palestine and the United States on the topics of life under occupation, the settlements and resistance to oppression.
In essence, allowing words spoken by Palestinian civilians living under occupation to be printed on food wrappers – Palestinians who have had their full human and civil rights denied – represented “anti-Israel” activity, as opposed to the types of pro-human-rights activities for which the organization champions. B’nai B’rith’s attacks on Heinz Endowments forced its president, Grant Oliphant, to publicly address its funding of Conflict Kitchen. This resulted in waffling statements in which he both distanced Heinz from Conflict Kitchen while supporting its choice to fund the cultural project.
What also resulted was a clear indication of just how deeply B’nai B’rith and other major American Jewish institutions are not just misrepresenting the interests and desires of the larger U.S. Jewish community, but standing in opposition to them.
Silence and Complicity
On November 6, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette broke its story on how B’nai B’rith International was instrumental in vocally and staunchly standing in opposition to Pittsburgh’s tiny take-out restaurant. Now, one thing you should know about B’nai B’rith is that, just like every major American Jewish organization, it advertises itself as supporting the two-state solution, meaning a Palestinian state.
On November 5, just one day before B’nai B’rith’s vocal opposition to Conflict Kitchen broke, Israel’s Minister of the Economy, Naftali Bennett, wrote a now-infamous op-ed in The New York Times entitled, “For Israel, Two States Is No Solution.” The piece effectively embraced an undemocratic, one-state solution in which Palestinians living in the West Bank would be granted small bantustans in which to live freely and, ostensibly peacefully, without full political rights.
During a time in which B’nai B’rith has vocally stood in opposition to Conflict Kitchen for the temerity to print on food wrappers words spoken by Palestinians, has it also vocally stood in opposition to Bennett’s op-ed in the Times, to words spoken which stand in opposition to the two-state ideal? A far more significant development and issue?
The answer is an emphatic no.
Poll Infographic 2014-11-07 15-58-22 And herein lies the central problem with major Jewish institutions today: they are not representing perspectives and interests of the majority of U.S. Jews. See, eighty percent of American Jews fully support Palestinian statehood and reject unchecked settlement expansions. Meaning: eighty percent of American Jews absolutely stand in opposition to Bennett’s offensive op-ed, and would certainly identify it as far more pressing and problematic than a take-out restaurant in Pittsburgh which is giving voice to those Palestinians under occupation, who are suffering under the Israeli settlement expansions they reject.
I count myself within this eighty percent, and am deeply offended that major Jewish institutions, such as B’nai B’rith, continue to remain silent as Israeli politicians ramp up their rhetoric against two states. This while pointing to non-issues like Conflict Kitchen and hollering. I’m offended, as are many other Jews, that such institutions which purport to represent the American Jewish community, and which claim to champion Jewish unity, are doing neither by acting as though supporting Israel means supporting its misdeeds. I’m offended that they are misrepresenting not just me, but the larger American Jewish community.
I can only imagine how Palestinians feel.


What Do You Buy For the Children
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, published recently by Oneworld Publications.
Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.