Barbara Sofer

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Speaking Engagements

The Human Spirit: Pantry politics

By Barbara Sofer

February 4, 2016

My neighbor came up the stairs lugging two uncooked roasts. A working mom, she'd tried to save valuable time by using an Internet shopping service. On the order form, she had neglected to specify the name of the Sephardi rabbi whose kosher meat certification she follows. Another rabbi's name was on the package. As we are the only non-Sephardi family in our building entrance, she wanted to know if we'd accept the meat as a gift.

I read the label. The meat was kosher enough, but it came from Brazil! Isn't that where the government rejected Israel's appointed ambassador? Should I be eating brisket that supports opposition to my country? Would that apply to all the people of Brazil, where we have close friends, or would certain populations be exempt? I'm just following the lead of the United States government. Not about Brazil. The American State Department recently approved the European Union's decision to label Jewish goods from Judea, Samaria, parts of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights as non-Israeli products. In addition, the US has reissued its own decision on labeling "to provide guidance to the trade community regarding the country of origin marking requirements for goods that are manufactured in the West Bank."

Since the American statement last week, I've been more sensitive to product labeling.

As someone strict about Jewish dietary laws as well as grandchildren's allergies, I thought I had enough to read in the supermarket aisles. It was bad enough that the Europeans take this stand that discriminates against Israel, but the American announcement sounds like Et tu, Brute? I know, I know, this policy announcement from the White House is just a reiteration of an "old rule" and not an actual boycott. Just bad timing. These are just guidelines, says State Department spokesman Mark Toner. Americans can make their own decisions. It's not like TV celebrity Dr. Oz advising viewers to avoid processed chicken from China.

The State Department wants to make it clear that the US doesn't consider "settlements" part of Israel. Those who live in an overwhelmingly Christian nation, where 25 million Bibles are sold every year, have declared that the towns where prophets Amos and Jeremiah once prophesied are not part of Israel. Not to mention the burial place purchased for the Matriarchs and Patriarchs – unless you think of Abraham and Sarah as settlers.

I've wondered about enforcing this rule, considering the mix of Jews and Arabs just about everywhere in our country. This is how the Europeans solve the geographical problem: Jewish products from Judea and Samaria will be listed as "products of settlements," while the labels of Arab products produced nearby read "product from the West Bank (Palestinian product)."

Arab exports from Gaza will read "product of Gaza" or "product of Palestine" and not "product of Israel" or "Jewish product." Actually, this isn't necessary. There are no more Jewish products, since there have been no Israelis in Gaza for more than 10 years. Indeed, we have had "carrots from Palestine" on sale at our hyper kosher supermarket in Jerusalem this year, under a special arrangement that brings in Palestinian products during the sabbatical year. This reminds us that ultimately the largest export market for Palestine is the State of Israel. Who did we make that arrangement with, exactly? Products from the Golan Heights cannot be listed simply as "product of the Golan Heights." Even if they would designate the wider area or territory from which the product originates, the omission of the additional geographical information that the product comes from Israeli settlements would mislead the consumer as to the true origin of the product. In such cases the expression "Israeli settlement" or equivalent needs to be added, in brackets, for example. Therefore, expressions such as "product from the Golan Heights (Israeli settlement)" or "product from the West Bank (Israeli settlement)" could be used. Imagine the lawyers around the table! The status of the crispy red apples exported by Druse farmers in the Golan Heights to Syria seems unclear. Is it okay to label their products "Golan Heights" because they're not Jews? The Druse used to export their produce to Syria through Quneitra. According to an Iranian news agency, the Syrian Army and popular forces beat back a series of attacks by Al-Nusra there this week. Considering the level of the warfare and the frequent changes in who is holding what territory, labeling must be very difficult for those Druse on the Syrian side. Apples and pears are among Syria's top exports. Are there labels for ISIS-caliphate-occupied or rebel-liberated Syria? Maybe the Europeans, occupied with keeping out refugees from this conflict, haven't gotten around to this yet.

And come to think of it, exactly what are the labeling rules for tropical fruit exported from Iraq and sesame from Tigray? Country of origin Ethiopia or Eritrea? Where is all this labeling aimed at "providing guidance" heading? The proponents of this labeling campaign have already marked the direction. Just open any of their websites. They've printed handy cards for the politically fastidious shopper. After all, not only does one have to be careful of not buying either Israeli or settlement goods, but other Jewish-related products should be avoided as well.

Take Starbucks, for instance. There's not a Starbucks Java Chip Frappuccino in the whole Land of Israel. Nonetheless, Starbucks owner Howard Schultz was honored by Jerusalem Old City-based Aish Hatorah yeshiva. No more Starbucks.

Coca-Cola is vilified for its longtime support of Israel and plans it had in 2002 of opening a bottling plant on the "stolen Palestinian land of Kiryat Gat." McDonald's is on the list because of franchises in Israel, and because an Arab worker was allegedly fired in 2004 for speaking Arabic. I couldn't make up this stuff.

I might think it humorous if I didn't know that the women of the Klu Klux Klan were among the first groups to boycott Jewish business in the US.

I was musing about these absurdities over a bowl of breakfast cereal when I realized that it originated in St. Louis, Missouri. Isn't Ferguson, where unarmed Michael Brown, 18, was shot in August 2014, a suburb of St.

Louis? Ferguson has become a symbol of racism in the US. Should I be eating Missouri cereal if I oppose racism? Of course, many of the factory workers are black, and they might lose their jobs if Missouri products were boycotted. A reported 16 percent of Ferguson's black workforce is unemployed, similar to the Arab workforce in the West Bank. When SodaStream – a target of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement – moved south from Mishor Adumim to the Negev, many of the 600 Palestinian employees lost their jobs.

In case you're wondering, I didn't banish the Brazilian beef, nor burn my Bran Flakes boxes. My pluralistic pantry holds Polish pickles, Turkish tagliatelle, and Saint-Benoîtsur- Loire beets. (Please note the diplomatic skills of my hassidic supermarket owners.) I declare that I don't even care that New Mexico and Arizona only became part of the US in 1912, and that Hawaii and Alaska were made part of America in 1959. If next week, peanuts from Portales, New Mexico, and Macadamia from Maui show up on the shelves, into my cart they will go. I may be a grandmother, but I'm into this global world.

A world that is facing serious problems. And they're not all the fault of the Jews.



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