Conflict Kitchen's Palestinian focus criticized as one-sided
Some call its new focus one-sided, anti-Israel
October 7, 2014 12:00 AM
There were long lunch lines at the Conflict Kitchen in Schenley Plaza in Oakland for the first day of its Palestinian menu.
By Melissa McCart / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Conflict Kitchen in Oakland’s Schenley Plaza debuted its rotation of Palestinian dishes Monday. By noon, more than 30 customers stood in line to order fattoush, falafel, musakhan and other foods.
Though the lunch hour went smoothly, not everyone was happy with the restaurant’s decision to focus on Palestine as part of its rotation to serve food from nations in conflict with the U.S.
Some Jewish organizations cited the Palestinian focus and related event programming as one-sided and anti-Israel.
Tensions flared last week during a kickoff talk for the Palestinian focus that the restaurant co-hosted with the University Honors College at University of Pittsburgh. It featured Nael Althweib, an internist originally from the West Bank, and Pitt professor Ken Boas, chair of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions-USA.
Artist and Carnegie Mellon faculty member Jon Rubin, in partnership with Dawn Weleski, founded Conflict Kitchen in 2010. It has served food from Afghanistan, North Korea, Iran, Cuba and Venezuela. The restaurant moved from East Liberty to Oakland in 2013.
“Conflict Kitchen’s focus on countries in conflict is honorable, but Palestine is not in conflict with the U.S.,” said Gregg Roman, director of Community Relations Council at the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. “The restaurant is stirring up conflict for the sake of trying to be relevant.”
Mr. Rubin disagrees, citing U.S. government funding as an indication that Palestine is a region in conflict with the U.S. For fiscal years 2009 through 2018, the U.S. has pledged a $30 billion military aid package to Israel. Since the mid-’90s, the U.S. has committed $5 billion in assistance to Palestine. Mr. Rubin and a team from the restaurant traveled to Palestine for several weeks in June to prepare for the meals and programs.
Mr. Roman has asked that Mr. Rubin invite his organization to the table to participate in the discussion. Mr. Rubin says that the event-planning is still being developed.
For now, food is the focus. Laila El-Haddad, co-author of “The Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Culinary Journey,” is scheduled to prepare a dinner with local Middle Eastern cooks Oct. 16 and present a talk Oct. 17. The book features recipes from Palestinian home cooks. It received high praise from London-based Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi, who interviewed her for Bon Appetit magazine when the book debuted last spring.
“You can’t always separate food and culture and politics,” said Mr. Rubin, “but food is a way of looking at our common humanity.”
Dishes from nations in conflict typically are served in rotations that last between three and five months. For details about the events, go to www.conflictkitchen.org.
Melissa McCart: 412-263-1198 or on Twitter @melissamccart.