The referendum will appear on the USG runoff election ballot this week. If passed, it will ask Dining Services to supply an alternative brand of hummus in addition to Sabra.
The petition for the referendum, which was submitted Tuesday night with the signatures of 269 undergraduates, is one piece of a campaign by the Princeton Committee on Palestine to register moral opposition to the activities of The Strauss Group, which owns 50 percent of Sabra Dipping Company. PepsiCo owns the other half.
The Strauss Group has made public statements in support of the Israeli Defense Forces and also sends care packages to soldiers. The Golani Brigade, members of which have been accused of human rights abuses, has been financially and publicly supported by The Strauss Group.
The referendum has garnered coverage in numerous publications around the world, from Fox News to The Huffington Post to The Jerusalem Post. It is part of a larger movement calling for the boycott of and divestment from companies supporting alleged human rights abusers within the Israeli military.
The referendum to appear on this week’s USG runoff election ballot reads: “On behalf of the student body, the USG will make a formal recommendation to University Dining Services that it offer an alternative to Sabra hummus in all University retail locations.”
The same referendum was slated to appear on last week’s USG ballot. However, due to an appeal the evening before last week’s USG elections, the USG Senate voted in executive session to bar changes to the referendum’s wording that were made by PCP after student signatures were collected. The appeal was made by Samson Schatz ’13; though he is a vice president of Tigers for Israel, he said at the time that he made the appeal as an individual.
When PCP learned that the original wording — which read: “The USG will make a formal recommendation to University Dining Services on behalf of the undergraduate student body to stop selling Sabra hummus, on the condition that Princeton offers an alternative hummus” — would appear on the ballot, it decided to withdraw the referendum and submit a new petition with its revised wording.
Karen Campion ’11, a vice president of PCP, said that while PCP is also asking students to boycott Sabra products, this week’s referendum would only create a “politically neutral space where students can act on their political convictions.”
While alternative brands are available at the U-Store and off campus, Sabra is the only brand sold at University-run retail locations and the only hummus that can be purchased at late meal in Frist Campus Center. The U-Store, which sells other brands, is not run by the University.
According to Campion, the lack of options in University retail locations causes a problem. “Students can only use their meal plan, which they’ve have already invested a lot of money in, to purchase one kind of hummus,” she said. She did acknowledge, however, that Dining Services also makes its own hummus which is served in residential college dining halls.
PCP’s Sabra hummus campaign was inspired by Philly BDS, an organization that calls for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against companies that support the Israeli military. The organization, which similarly emphasizes the human rights abuses of the Golani Brigade, has also targeted companies it sees as “partners” of the military.
The campaign against Sabra hummus has spread to other campuses. DePaul University in Chicago has discontinued sale of Sabra products, and students at the University of Pennsylvania have taken both sides in a boycott campaign in Philadelphia.
Campion said that at Princeton, beyond the specific case of The Strauss Group, PCP hopes to show students how their buying habits can influence geopolitics. “PCP’s campaign about the referendum was to demonstrate to students we make inherently political statements whether we realize it or not when we buy things,” she said. “It’s important to note how the little decisions we’re making tie us to bigger issues. In the case of Sabra, it’s tying us to the conflict in Israel and Palestine.”
Tigers for Israel has opposed on the referendum. Outside coverage of the issue has focused on PCP and TFI’s dueling Facebook.com event pages and their attendee numbers. PCP’s “Boycott Sabra Hummus” event garnered 178 attendees, while TFI’s “Save the Hummus!” event had 2,680 as of Sunday evening.
Addie Lerner ’11, a vice president of TFI, said in an e-mail, “TFI is opposed to the current referendum because it still targets Sabra hummus for illogical and convoluted allegations of affiliation with human rights violations.”
Lerner said that while individual members of the Golani Brigade have been prosecuted for human rights abuses, “the unit itself is not a perpetrator of human rights violations.”
“The claims against Sabra are flawed generalities formed from critical details; I hope the Princeton student body recognizes that point A does not lead to point C,” she continued.
While TFI is opposed to the referendum, they do not intend to actively campaign against it this week, Lerner said. “We feel the majority of the campus community already agrees that this whole referendum saga is pretty silly.”
Campion, however, urged students to “think critically about whether or not this is trivial,” citing the national and international attention the campaign has attracted.
“Students have a really exciting opportunity from this referendum to make the University a space where students can take an active role in a nonviolent movement that could help bring an end to this conflict,” she said. “It’s easy to think that it’s just in the Princeton bubble that this discussion on Sabra is happening, but it’s not. It’s happening all over, and we have the opportunity to make a real statement here.”
The election begins today at noon and ends Wednesday at noon. The ballot will also feature a runoff election for USG vice president.
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2010/11/29/27025/