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UK university removes Israel brand following BDS campaign

Sabra Hummus, a brand of hummus manufactured in the occupied West Bank [Flickr]

A popular brand of Israeli hummus has been removed from the shelf of a British university shop following protests by students.

The University of Manchester (UoM) campus shop was asked to stop stocking Sabra Hummus; a brand of hummus manufactured in the occupied West Bank which the students alleged is complicit in human rights violations in occupied Palestine. They claimed that the University’s decision to stock Sabra in its shops actively endorses Israel’s illegal occupation and human rights violations in Palestine.

Sabra Hummus is a well-known brand that’s said to have captured 66 per cent of the hummus market in the US. What’s rarely mentioned is that the brand’s owner, PepsiCo and Strauss Group, “adopted” an elite Israeli military unit.

The company’s website has boasted of providing the Golani Brigade “with an ongoing variety of food products for their training or missions, and provide personal care packages for each soldier that completes the path.” The Strauss Group has also said it gives funds to the Israeli army unit for “welfare, cultural and educational activities, such as pocket money for underprivileged soldiers, sports and recreational equipment, care packages, and books and games for the soldiers’ club.”

Read: Israeli embassy accused of pressuring UK university to censor free speech

In their petition to have Sabra Hummus removed from the campus, the students cited PepsiCo and Strauss Group’s backing of Israeli soldiers and revealed that the company had proudly declared its support for the Israeli army on its website in English. However, one week after the announcement of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Sabra Hummus, Strauss Group removed their statement of support in English, but has left the statement in Hebrew.

The petition by the students listed several examples of human rights violations by the Golani Brigade, including, according to the petition “arbitrary murders, assaults, incarcerations, evictions, and arrests of children”.

“It played key roles in the Israeli army’s assault on the Gaza Strip in 2008-09 during ‘Operation Cast Lead’ [where] widespread human rights abuses and possible war crimes were committed by the Israeli army during the assault,” said the petition.

The students said that the sale of Sabra Hummus was “an endorsement of the company’s politics” and called on UoM to financially end its support for human rights violators like the Golani Brigade.

Students were informed yesterday of the shop’s decision not to stock the Israeli brand on campus. In an email to the student group, seen by MEMO, the shop manager said: “We will not be ordering this product/brand again as this will be set as ‘not available’ on our on-line system which will prevent anyone from bringing this into the stock within the shop.”

Read: Manchester University must reveal its relations with Israeli institutions

Members of the campaign group are hoping that the decision by the shop to boycott Israeli produce will encourage UoM to terminate its investment in companies that are complicit in the illegal occupation of Palestine.

“This is a great victory for the whole movement of BDS,” a student activist said to MEMO, “however the university still holds institutional and investment links to Israel’s war crimes including shares in companies which profit from and sustain Israel’s apartheid regime, such as Caterpillar, whose specially-modified armed bulldozers are used to demolish homes, schools, olive groves and communities in Palestine. This goes completely against the university’s own socially responsible investment policy”.

The student continued: “As a first year student, I was shocked to find out that my university was in fact not investing in the socially responsible companies that it claims to and instead hold millions of pounds worth of shares in companies which sustain Israel’s apartheid regime.”

An an email to MEMO, a university spokesperson said: “Sabra products are available from a wide range of shops in the UK and the decision to remove this product from the University shop was made by a new member of staff who was not aware of the correct procedure for making these choices. Coincidentally, and unconnected to the student representations, the shop has recently moved to a new supplier which does not have this product in its range. The decision to go with another supplier is in no way related to the student campaign.”

Activists at the university have however denied the spokesperson’s claims, saying emails that they received from the Catering Department proved that their work had encouraged the shop to remove the item in question.

Activists at the University of Manchester say the shop's catering team assured them that Sabra brand hummus would not be stocked any more following their petition.

Activists at the University of Manchester say the shop’s catering team assured them that Sabra brand hummus would not be stocked following their petition.

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