Wednesday, June 23, 2021

The Coda to the Israeli-American Food Truck Fiasco

(Previous posts here and here)

Eat Up the Borders, which ignited a firestorm of criticism after uninviting an Israeli-American immigrant food truck from its festival, has issued an apology.

It is, I think, a good apology. It provides relevant context, while making absolutely clear that they own their mistake and affirming their absolute intention to keep working with Moshava Philly in the future. While the apology is primarily -- an appropriately -- directed at Moshava and the Jewish community, it also at one point extends its apology to "the Jewish and Palestinian communities." I've seen some people push on this -- why the apology to Palestinians? -- but I don't have any particular problem. Eat Up the Borders made its own mistake, and yet Palestinians are having it imputed to them. To the extent Eat Up the Borders dragged them into a mess of their own creation, it's fine to apologize for that.

More broadly: apologies are important, and we should be encouraging Eat Up the Borders for doing so here. It's hard to apologize, and harder still when you know that many won't accept the apology and many others will be furious that one deigned to apologize at all. Sometimes it's paradoxically more comfortable sitting with obvious, outright antisemitism -- there is a weird sense of relief in finding a situation where everyone knows this was not okay, and there is the temptation to continue sitting in that comfortable position of righteous anger than to transition to the far more precarious, vulnerable, and uncertain posture of trying to grow forward. 

This is a temptation that must be resisted. If we want people to apologize and work to do better, one needs to respond favorably when they earnestly try to do so. Positive reinforcement is good! And this, I'd note, has been the consistent tone taken by Moshava Philly, which has been emphatic that it likes Eat Up the Borders, thinks they do good work, wants to continue working with them, and thinks this was a mistake they'll learn and grow from. If one refuses to allow for that possibility, one cannot hold oneself out as an ally to Moshava Philly.

In other thoughts: It was notable that, once this story broke into the mainstream, one spotted very few defenders of the decision to expel Moshava Philly. Obviously, they exist and one could find them if one looked, but the usual suspects remained pretty quiet and the slightly-less usual suspects tended to use this as a case of "here's an example of where a 'boycott' goes too far." So that's notable. 

Those who did come out in defense of the expulsion -- JVP's Swarthmore branch was probably the highest-profile case I saw -- really did a sterling job of demonstrating how BDS, at least for that camp of fundamentalist, is about objecting to Israelis existing in any form or capacity. Eater Philadelphia got a quote -- one of the first I've seen -- from one of the persons who initially put pressure on the festival to cut ties with Moshava Philly based on the view that its food was "appropriated Palestinian food that they’re marketing as Israeli food" and therefore "contributes to the marginalization and erasure of Palestinian culture" (as Ron Kampeas notes, when it comes to the food in question, this is both historically illiterate and erasive of Middle Eastern Jewish history).

But the flailing effort to find something -- anything -- that supposedly rendeered their targeting of Moshava Philly something more than just naked national origin discrimination made them look more ridiculous than righteous. A popular move was to claim that "moshava" means "settlement" (it means something like "small village", which, yes, most thesauruses would say is a synonym for "settlement", but not in the sense referred to here). Others poured over social media to find basic statements of pride in being Israeli or love of their country to present as mortal sins (Manny's in San Francisco endured a similar strategy). One "collective", for example, made the shocking discovery that a product that Moshava Philly sold had its origin in a farm which the proprietor began working on "illegally" in 1993 (the intended implication being that it was from an illegal West Bank settlement). Even that six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon tag fell apart when it was discovered that the farm in question was in pre-48 Israel (who knew that BDSers had so much respect for Israeli property law!), at which point they showed their whole self by declaring flatly that "It’s all a settlement: Tel Aviv is a settlement just like Havot Ma’on, or Kiryat Arba." So yeah, that's who we're dealing with.

Ultimately, this story ends on an optimistic note. The festival apologized. The promise to keep working with Moshava Philly was secured, and it appears neither grudging nor coerced. Moshava Philly has been very vocal about how humbled they've been from the outpouring of support they've received. Few, if any, mainstream actors did anything but say "this was wrong". Those are all good things. We can be happy about those good things, and work to build on them -- and it looks like both Moshava Philly and Eat Up the Borders are committed to doing so.

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