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Food politics in the Ivy League: The hummus battle of 2010

At Princeton University, Hummus, the 80-calorie snack of which even first lady Michelle Obama would approve, has become a flashpoint issue.

On Friday, students at Princeton finally laid to rest a political dispute over the type of hummus that would be served on campus. The hummus that is currently served in Princeton dining halls is made by Sabra Dipping Company, which is partially owned by The Strauss Group, an Israeli company that gives money to the Israeli Defense Forces. A group called Philly BDS — which stands for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions — organized a boycott of the company, explaining that it did not believe it was acceptable to use American money to fund what it deemed the unacceptable behavior of the Israeli Defense Forces.

“Documentation regarding the human rights and international law violations committed by the Israeli military over the past 60 years is abundant,” Philly BDS wrote in a letter to The Strauss Group demanding a change. “Historically, the Israeli army has been a consistent violator of human rights and international law.”

A campus group called Princeton Committee on Palestine (PCP) took up the charge, organizing a referendum to petition the university to provide alternative hummus options.

The president of PCP, Yoel Bitran, is quoted in The Daily Princetonian explaining that “The Princeton Committee on Palestine objects to the fact that Sabra is the only hummus brand that is offered in most University stores and that students who wish to eat this traditional Arab food are forced to buy a product that is connected to human rights abuses against Arab civilians.”

On the other side, Tigers for Israel, Princeton’s pro-Israel group, jumped into the fray, arguing that the hummus’ connection to “human rights abuses” was tenuous at best, and that moreover to pass the referendum would make a political statement against Israel.

What followed was a whirlwind saga of political intrigue: op-eds were written; the referendum was removed from the ballot at the last second, when it was found that the wording on the ballot was not the original wording of the petition; the generally apolitical Center for Jewish Life weighed in.

Finally, on Friday, a vote was successfully taken on the referendum, and it was defeated, with1,014 students voting against it and 699 voting for it, according to The Daily Princetonian. Both sides declared victory — Tigers for Israel for having defeated the referendum, and PCP for having “raised awareness.”

Lest you were worried about the future, let this soothe your fears. Clearly the best and the brightest are more than ready to step into the political fray.