Israel, Lebanon

HummusGate

I haven’t gotten so many email forwards about a Lebanon-related issue since the National Geographic special about Phoenician DNA, which featured a stunning photo-montage of several sweaty and very hairy Lebanese fishermen (or, maybe just accountants pretending to be fishermen) rowing a boat and trying their best to look non-Arab.

The latest story, showing up in “Oddly Enough” news feeds around the globe, concerns a lawsuit being filed against Israel by Fadi Abboud, president of the Lebanese Industrialists Association. The official charge is something along the lines of copyright infringement or intellectual property theft, and the products in question are falafel, hummus, tabbouleh, etc.

“The Israelis are marketing our main food dishes as if they were Israeli dishes,” he charged.

“We are working on registering all the foods and ingredients which will be submitted to the Lebanese government so it can appeal to the international courts against Israel,” Abboud said.

This lawsuit promises to be an endless source of amusement. Lebanon’s lawyers will likely point to several recent cases of successful copyright protection of important national brands, like feta (Greece), halloumi (Cyprus), and champagne (France). Meanwhile Israel will no doubt try to make hay of the fact that Beirut’s most popular falafel joint is called Falafel Sahyoun. What hilarities lie ahead, I can only imagine.

But while we’re at it, why not try copyrighting a few other things that were so cynically pilfered from our cultural heritage? Like, for starters, algebra? Or the alphabet, and maybe even Keanu Reeves. Hummus, tabbouleh, and falafel are small potatoes compared to the gazillions of dollars we are losing by not copyrighting the color indigo, for Baal’s sake.

The only thing that worries me about our chances in this lawsuit is the potential knife in the back from our brotherly neighbors to the east. A reader of As`ad Abu Khalil’s blog named “Joseph” recently emailed the Angry Arab this very dangerous protest:

“As’ad, you must say something about the audacity of the Lebanese to claim Hummus and tabouleh and fattoush and all of these pan-Syrian dishes, which came from Damascus and Aleppo, as Lebanese. The attempt by the Lebanese (and this is initially a Christian Lebanese project) to appropriate Syrian food is quite horrific even if it is not as horrific as the Israeli attempt. All the Lebanese can claim is to have a restaurant industry but not a cuisine or a kitchen which they have never had. Nonetheless, you cannot pretend as you did in your post that Hummus is indeed a Lebanese dish (since you did not question the Lebanese claim of possession of it). There are no such thing as Lebanese dishes except in the lexicon and ideology of Lebanese chauvinists.”

The damage done by this Joseph fellow, while serious, is not too severe… yet. But I’d be lying if I told you that I wasn’t worried about the disastrous possibility of Israel’s lawyers finding out about this horrific “Christian Lebanese project” before too long. And if that happens, you better believe this case will be over faster than you can say “wa7ad falafel ‘extra’ 3a zou2ak“.

In that event, there will be nothing to halt the complete appropriation of hummus by Israel’s marketing geniuses.

Or should I say “khummus”?

Discussion

19 thoughts on “HummusGate

  1. Reminds me of the old Farid and Samer Gershwin song:

    I say hummus, you say khummus
    Let’s call the whole thing off!

    MM.

    Posted by MsLevantine | October 10, 2008, 12:40 pm
  2. Qifa Nabki,

    Let’s first settle if Israel, Syria or Lebanon own the Shebaa farms, then we’ll move to Hummos.

    I’m joking of course. they are all Syrian … like everything in/out of the Levant

    : )

    Posted by Alex | October 10, 2008, 12:53 pm
  3. I thought Falafel was Egyptian and Baba Ghannouj was Turkish! As for the hummus, if the pine nuts are fried in samneh, the Syrians can have it. Otherwise, it must be Phoenician.

    Posted by Ms. Tee | October 10, 2008, 1:49 pm
  4. oh my god. lol. amazing.

    Posted by Zenobia | October 10, 2008, 1:53 pm
  5. lol

    I’m wondering where mana2eesh fit into all of this. As far as I know they’re only really found in Lebanon and parts of Syria. What gives?

    I suppose flatbreads with condiments, in some shape or another, are practically universal across the Med and into Central and South Asia… No cultural brilliance to excavate there. *sigh*

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | October 10, 2008, 2:00 pm
  6. you are so right about the forwarding: I have 5 forwards with various news articles sitting in my inbox right now.

    but to be honest the number of forwards about claiming hummus pales next to the number of forwards I received with that Grey holiday spot featuring all the Lebanese politicians.

    maybe the same creative team will take note and create a dancing hummus/tabbouleh/mana2eesh promo :).

    Posted by adiamondinsunlight | October 10, 2008, 3:26 pm
  7. I have hope. Let me clarify.

    When my late father taught me self defense as a child, he did so on one very important proviso ” Do not pick on someone who is bigger, a bully, smarter or quicker than you,”

    It left me a little confused, the only people I can defend against were weaker or smaller than me, but why would they be stupid enough to pick on me who was bigger than them?

    What a dilema!

    I am surprised by the new war against the Israeli’s. Picture this from one Beirut Taxi driver that I spoke to recently:

    ” They have invaded us countless times, given us a massive refugee problem, Destroyed our infrastructure, Laid waste to our beautiful South, caused us misery and pain,stolen our and, left us with out hope and dignity and now lay claim to our Hummus and Tabboule”

    Not all hope is lost, at least they didn’t lay claim to the Kneffeh and Zaataar!

    At least this is a fight we have picked that we might have a chance of winning! You have got to love Lebanese intelligence maybe we are rediscovering that ancient phonecian “smart gene” again.

    Hope springs eternal.

    Posted by Enlightened | October 10, 2008, 8:46 pm
  8. Greetings QN. Qunfuz here. Please send me a link or two with reference to the discussion on Syriacomment. And congratulations for your new blog.

    Posted by qunfuz | October 11, 2008, 9:08 am
  9. QN, re: man2oushe: i learned today that la7em be 3ajeen is served in Turkey under this name, but there is no such thing as a zaatar or jebneh man2oushe. It then occurred to me that in fact in Berlin, you can buy la7em be 3ajeen as ‘Turkish’ pizza. How outrageous of them to just usurp all the cultural brilliance!!!

    Posted by Bint Abeeha | October 11, 2008, 1:11 pm
  10. I came across this story in the Australian media. It’s reached this far!

    I’ve had encounters with the Israeli student group on my old university campus over hummus. But I’ve also had encounters with Greek friends over baklava.

    It’s all fun and games, but when it is part of a $1billion industry, there’s more at stake than simply the name.

    Posted by Antoun Issa | October 11, 2008, 9:23 pm
  11. QN,

    Without intending to offend the legitimate claims of anyone, I made a comment on SC saying that I propose to test out the idea of payment for damage caused, by first having Israeli Humus producers pay a certain royalty fee (let’s say 2%) of all exported products to the Bilad al Sham producers. In fact, let’s put that as a major stipulation in any potential Israel-Syrian/Israeli-Lebanese peace agreement.

    Then, after we achieve peace, let’s jointly refer to ourselves as the “Pax Humusana”! 🙂

    Posted by Shai | October 12, 2008, 12:49 am
  12. Shai

    Just 2%??! Do you think we were born yesterday? 🙂

    Bint Abeeha,

    I had no idea that the word man2oushe was used in Turkey at all. That’s fascinating. I will make this the subject of my first book, post-dissertation.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | October 12, 2008, 1:24 pm
  13. QN,

    First, congratulations on the blog!

    A few comments about the (very important!) “Hummus War”.

    1. I’ll take that any day over a real war.
    2. An Arab college mate of mine assured me that Hummus is a Greek name, indeed it doesn’t seem to derive from an Arabic verb of related meaning.
    3. Current intellectual property laws are a sham by any standard, but when it comes to food it’s a whole new level.
    4. Lebanon and Syria are among the countries with the highest rates in the world of software piracy and other forms of IP infringement so you know what they say about houses of glass (this is what you tell us Israelis when we start talking about human rights in Arab countries).
    5. It is different from the Champagne and Feta cases in that you can market something as Champagne only if it was really produced in the Champagne region of France. In other words it’s not about “who made it” but “where it was made”. I’m sure the Lebanese restaurant owners in the West will be very unhappy if they could only market as Tabouleh a salad that was produced a week earlier in Beirut and had to be flown to 🙂
    6. Everything said and done, I can identify with the agitation over the Israelis stealing the Arab food and making it “our national food”. We need to come up with a fusion dish something like hummus sushi rolls or pita with schnitzel, salad, hummus, thineh and hot sauce (which I was eating almost on a daily basis in a small Haifa joint that was located in the same building as the software company I was working for. Makes my mouth water.)

    Posted by Rumyal | October 12, 2008, 3:22 pm
  14. Rumyal

    I meant to delete your post because of the extreme danger it posed to Lebanon’s chances in this case, but my hand slipped and I approved it instead.

    Blazes! Foiled again!

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | October 13, 2008, 12:29 am
  15. Hilarious yet again. Keep blogging 🙂

    Posted by Torstein | October 13, 2008, 11:45 am
  16. QN,

    Don’t mess with Israelis like Rumyal. Especially not when it comes to Hummus, which is probably consumed by Israelis more than water… Watching American football over the years, and the bowls that come up at the end of the season, I’ve often felt a football league in the Middle East would have to have its own Hummus Bowl someday. Well, I don’t care where it originated, and if the Lebanese feel betrayed by Israeli manufacturers, let them sit together, and work it out. As Rumyal said, I too prefer this “hummus war” over any other kind of war.

    Rumyal, kudos yedidi!

    Posted by Shai | October 13, 2008, 2:53 pm
  17. QN,

    What khianeh… I hope your people will forgive you…

    Posted by Rumyal | October 13, 2008, 11:54 pm
  18. Shai Yedidi this word reminds me of Ephie from Eretz Nehederet 🙂

    Posted by Rumyal | October 14, 2008, 12:03 am

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