Commentary, Opinion

McGill needs to boycott Sabra—for real this time

After a stickering campaign by  Students for Palestinian Human Rights McGill (SPHR) at the end of the winter 2022 semester, McGill’s Food and Dining Services removed Sabra products from the shelves of McGill’s dining halls and cafés. However, in recent weeks, they’ve returned. Instead of toying with their merchandising to temporarily appease student groups, McGill must permanently remove Sabra products from their selection. 

The Strauss Group, the parent company of Sabra which is co-owned by Pepsi-Co, is one of the largest food production corporations based in Israel. The group financially supports the Golani Brigade, a brutal and inhumane division of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). In addition to financial support, Ofra Strauss, the company’s chairwoman, has admitted to providing food and care packages to the Brigade during training and missions. The IDF is responsible for the continued ethnic cleansing and settler colonialism of Palestine through horrific violations of international law and crimes against humanity. The Golani Brigade in particular has carried out arbitrary murder campaigns, participated in the demolition of Palestinian homes, and helped incarcerate children. The brigade played a significant role in the egregious assault on Gaza in 2008, killing around 1,400 Palestinians and wounding many more. In addition to the alienation that McGill’s hundreds of Palestinian students face from an administration that systemically ignores Israel’s war crimes, supplying blood-stained products such as those of Sabra serves as a constant reminder of McGill’s complicity. 

Calls to remove such products are part of a larger Boycott Divest Sanction (BDS) movement, that aims to hold Israel economically accountable for its occupation of Palestine and subsequent apartheid and colonialism. With Sabra as one among many corporations, the global movement makes calls to boycott consumer brands like Puma, L’OREAL, and Pillsbury, supported by five members of the Pillsbury family themselves. The calls for BDS were successful. Earlier this year, Pillsbury’s parent company, General Mills, divested from apartheid Israel. We are seeing worldwide that BDS works; the University of Manchester removed Sabra from its campus after a boycott campaign.

The appropriation of hummus by an Israeli-backed group serves as another example of Israel’s obsession with co-opting and appropriating Palestinian culture. The Israeli promotion of falafel, hummus, and labneh without recognition of their Palestinian origins represents the overarching project to erase Palestinian culture and history. These historical and cultural deprivations complement the Israeli government’s systemic dispossession of Palestinian land,  restriction of access to water in occupied Palestine, and continual uprooting of farmland through military and settler violence. 

But why does the appropriation of hummus specifically matter? In Israel’s genocidal framework, the persistence of historical Palestinian culture threatens the state’s legitimacy and independence. Therefore, cultural appropriation is just one of many tactics to suppress traces of Palestinian validity and resistance. 

While settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza blockade illustrate instances of direct subjugation towards Palestinians, cultural appropriation, notably through corporate action, is far more cynical: The objective is to psychologically dominate and humiliate a people and nation by denying them not only their basic human rights but also the right to own their history and culture. 

McGill has a longstanding history of profiting from Israeli apartheid in Palestine and has shown time and time again that they do not value human rights, especially when it concerns people of colour. Students, however, have begun to show up and make their positions clear. Even though it was not adopted, the Palestine Solidarity Policy was approved with a  71.1 per cent majority, a policy that held a promise to boycott all corporations complicit in settler-colonial apartheid against Palestinians, including Sabra. It is imperative that students remain active in fights against McGill’s profiteering from Israel’s violent occupation in Palestine. Complicity is violent and until Sabra is off the shelf, we’re all guilty.

Share this:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.


Read the latest issue

Read the latest issue