Resolution Passed to Ban Sabra Hummus After Student Debate

A resolution, titled “A Resolution To Endorse the Banning of Sabra Hummus from the Devil’s Den” (the first resolution), was read in Student Senate on Nov. 12 and had a second reading on Dec. 3. At the Student Senate meeting on Dec. 3, a second resolution, entitled “Alternative Resolution Regarding Sabra Hummus” (the second resolution) was read. 

“A Resolution To Endorse the Banning of Sabra Hummus from the Devil’s Den” calls for endorsing the discontinuation of sales of Sabra products from the Devil’s Den as of Feb. 1, 2020 or when the current inventory is exhausted, whichever comes first. “A Resolution To Endorse the Banning of Sabra Hummus from the Devil’s Den” states that the banning is in alignment with the College’s commitment to sustainability and inclusivity. “A Resolution To Endorse the Banning of Sabra Hummus from the Devil’s Den” also states that Dickinson College should provide a list of alternative potential suppliers of hummus to maintain the sale of hummus at the Devil’s Den. 

“A Resolution To Endorse the Banning of Sabra Hummus from the Devil’s Den” states that Sabra Hummus is a brand partially owned by the Strauss Group, which is a company that financially and morally supports the Golani and Givati brigade of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). “These brigades of the IDF commit human rights abuses against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza,” according to the resolution. Additionally, the resolution continues that “the support of Sabra products helps the Strauss Group support the Israeli Defense Force brigade, which maintains a cycle of oppression for Palestinian peoples in violation of international law.”

Author of the first resolution, Henry Cohen ’20 explained that “this specific action is about taking the moral high ground. Throughout my life, I have stood in contrast to my Jewish neighbors on the issue of Israel at the cost of alienation and exclusion. I have stayed silent for the most part while at Dickinson, but now I find it in myself to invite my Jewish brothers and sisters to join me in this fight for justice.” 

Cohen explained the importance of direct action with the resolution. “I firmly believe that taking the moral high ground ultimately makes Jews and Palestinians safer in our community and around the world,” he said.

The second resolution, “Alternative Resolution Regarding Sabra Hummus” explained that the resolution entitled “A Resolution to Endorse the Banning of Sabra Hummus from the D-Den,” does not consider the whole community effected to the proposal of banning Sabra hummus, as some students can no longer eat on the meal plan due to the removal of the Star-K Kosher certification in the dining hall. Sabra hummus sold in the Devil’s Den is one of the only Kosher and vegan options offered on campus. However, in a second reading of the first resolution, the statement “Sabra hummus would be replaced with another kosher hummus product in the interest of maintaining kosher students’ ability to feed themselves on campus,” was added. The second resolution then explains that “Jewish Americans have seen a large spike in hate crimes directed at them in the last few years, [… and] Boycotting Sabra hummus is a hallmark of the Boycott, Divestments, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to pressure Israel through economic means. The presence of this type of activity on campus makes some Jewish students uncomfortable.” The resolution explained that BDS activities often evolve into anti-Semitic activities. However, the resolution did explain that the importance of understanding the multifaceted perspectives of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that the “sides involved in the conflict may be presented as a unified front in regards to their beliefs, opinions are far more nuanced and vary widely.”

A student who will remain anonymous for fear of backlash explained that anti-Semitism has emerged on college campuses that voted to remove Sabra. “Why should we limit and politicize our hummus choices by removing Sabra from our shelves? It is the student government’s job to represent all students on campus, not politicize our hummus brands through a boycott and taking a stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” the student said.

A different student who will also remain anonymous for fear of backlash reiterated the point that BDS activities on college campuses has led to anti-Semitic activities. “I don’t think there’s a toxic environment right here, but possibly later on,” the student said. However, several attendees questioned whether or not it was correlation or causation between the rise in the passing of BDS resolutions leading to the rise in anti-Semitism seen on college campuses. 

“Alternative Resolution Regarding Sabra Hummus” states that “a more productive resolution would instead seek to further educate students about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with perspectives from both sides, and would promote intergroup dialogue opportunities. This would avoid inflaming tensions on campus regarding the conflict and would mitigate the potential of an unwelcoming environment for students.” And, the resolution holds that Student Senate will endorse a resolution that considers dietary needs of all students, endorse constructive educational and dialogue programs surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, endorse the offering of another Kosher hummus brand and keep Sabra available for purchase, does not endorse one perspective of the conflict over another and understand that attempted justice cannot come at the price of potentially harming a marginalizing religious minority on campus. 

Another student who will remain anonymous for fear of backlash explained that the second resolution was written because “the original resolution to boycott sabra was to send a message, but there are other ways to send that message, I would be fully in support of sending a message if it didn’t have the potential to lead to anti-Semitism as we’ve seen on other college campuses.” 

Provost & Dean of the College Neil Weissman however, explained that even if the resolution is passed in Student Senate, the College’s current policy would prevent the ban from occurring. “Our policy is not to engage in boycotts this came up some years ago when the American studies association endorsed boycotting Israel and [….] In that occasion we articulated our policy which is, we engage in international partners, we [the college] don’t boycott and that would include doing business,” Weissman said. He explained that there are two reasons to change hummus brands, the first is because one might prefer a different kind of hummus and the second reason to change is the politics. “Those are two different things and the nature of the conversation would be different, but in the senate resolutions, we hear about the politics,” Weissman said. He explained that if the resolution were to pass, then “essentially it would be request that we change the policy or deviate from it in this case.” 

Attendees of the Student Senate meeting questioned whether Student Senate should pass the resolution and propose a similar resolution, but instead of boycotting, frame the resolution as an inclusivity resolution, so that the college can support the disposal of Sabra hummus. Omer Siegel ’22 explained that the boycott is symbolic and that even though the College may not boycott, there is no reason for Student Senate not to search for an alternate resolution that offers Kosher and vegan hummus and another kind that anyone of any religion or diet can eat. “I challenge Senate to think of ways to take a more neutral or more reflective stance, but find a way to counter anti-Semitism […] and to have activism, but also a way that doesn’t bring up anti-Semitism, which is more difficult than it may seem” Siegel said.  

During the meeting, a student who will remain anonymous called for discussion and working together with the author of the second resolution, asking why it did not start with dialogue. But, he commented on how the resolutions have brought awareness to the student body, as the meeting was well-attended, there were about forty non-senators in attendance at the meeting and thanked the author and co-authors of the second resolution for aiding in the effort. 

Several students and faculty members questioned whether we should focus only on the boycotting of Sabra, or also consider boycotting Pepsi products, as the Soda Stream headquarters are located in Lod, Israel and Soda Stream has been acquired by Pepsi. “This is in part symbolic […] we can agree that other companies do terrible things but […] the symbolism is far greater for [Palestinian] students who see sabra hummus in the d-den, it’s like a slap in the face. We don’t; need to focus on Pepsi right now, this [Sabra] is what we’re focusing on now,” Cohen said. 

Students in attendance also questioned if Dickinson College has a contract with Sabra. It was also explained that Sabra hummus is not the hummus that is used in the dining hall, which was confirmed by Cohen.

Director of the Milton B. Asbell Center for Jewish Life, Rabbi Marley Weiner explained that she was impressed with the level of communication amongst students and highlighted how this was the true meaning of a Dickinson College education. She encouraged attendees to listen with an open mind because “the stakes of issues are real and emotions are high.” She explained that this is the beginning of the conversation, and that “the beginning of the conversation where trust is built, where there is curiosity, [and it] is going to continue this year and in years to come.” She then said that the Asbell Center and CSSJ are interested in serving as a resource to continue the debate, and encouraged students to use those resources. 

Before the vote, Cohen urged the Senators and attendees to remember that “it is hard for Jews and Palestinians to talk about this [but], I’m grateful for this dialogue, I’m grateful it’s been so civil.” Cohen hoped that attendees and Senators are thinking of the issues of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. 

The first resolution passed and the second did not. 

Sarah Ursini ’20 said she attended the meeting to hear the conversation about the issue. “[…] I think it’s important for the Senate representatives of the student body to take a stand in saying that we do not want our money going to corporations that directly fund abuses of human rights,” Ursini said.

Jesse Windsor ’20 said that “regardless of the decisions made, this whole process has made me recognize how ill-informed I was on both sides of this topic prior to attending this meeting.” Windsor also explained the importance of the resolution’s symbolism. 

Seigel explained the importance of the debate reflecting complexities and sensitivities of the Israel-Palestine conflict. “The Jewish community on [campus] has felt an increasing amount of anti-Semitism in the last few years, both on-campus and from the greater Carlisle community, yet this fear shouldn’t obstruct the wider Dickinson’s community values of justice,” he said.

Madeleine Sagabeil ’20 appreciated the dialogue that the debate created concerning issues regarding Israel and Palestine.  “I hope it will open the door for students to feel more comfortable to talk about that and those kinds of issues,” Sagabeil said.

Now that the first resolution is passed, it will be brought forward to administration for further discussion.