ZOA Letter to Univ. of Pittsburgh About Supporting Anti-Israel Project
News Press Release
November 18, 2014

November 18, 2014

Dr. Patrick Gallagher, Chancellor
University of Pittsburgh
Office of the Chancellor
107 Cathedral of Learning
4200 Fifth Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15260

Dear Chancellor Gallagher: 

We write on behalf of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), the oldest and one of the largest pro-Israel organizations in the U.S. whose mission includes fighting anti-Semitism, including Israel-bashing, in schools, textbooks and the media. We were troubled to learn that your University Honors College (UHC) was supporting a local food kiosk called Conflict Kitchen. Although reportedly the UHC has officially withdrawn its sponsorship, we understand that the UHC is still participating in Conflict Kitchen’s events and providing funding for students to attend them. This kiosk is promoting factual distortions and outright lies that demonize the State of Israel, with the inevitable effect of inciting hatred of Israelis and Jews. We therefore urge the University of Pittsburgh to cut all ties with Conflict Kitchen. 

Students are reportedly afraid to speak out against Conflict Kitchen’s hateful tactics for fear of being targeted by other students.

Conflict Kitchen advertises itself as “only serv[ing] food from countries with which the United States is in conflict.” Featuring the food from one country at a time – such as from North Korea and Iran – Conflict Kitchen is strangely now serving food from “Palestine” – even though the United Nations has not to this point accepted a sovereign state of Palestine, and even though it would be false to suggest that the U.S. is “in conflict” with “Palestine” or the Palestinian Arabs. The U.S. has been giving over 600 million dollars per year to the Palestinian Authority. After the Hamas war against Israel this past summer, the U.S. committed to giving an additional $212 million dollars in immediate assistance to rebuild Gaza. Given the exorbitant U.S. financial support for the Palestinian Arabs, it is difficult to understand how anyone could honestly claim that the U.S. is “in conflict” with “Palestine” or the Palestinians. The claim is absurd and false.

That being said, Conflict Kitchen is not just about serving food or about discussing conflict with the goal of understanding and diminishing it. This food kiosk is plainly determined to exacerbate tensions, by promoting vicious, one-sided anti-Israel propaganda, without regard for context and in disregard of history and the facts.

According to media reports, Conflict Kitchen is dispensing pamphlets that it calls “wrappers,” which are filled with information that is one-sided against Israel, factually distorted, and blatantly false. The food kiosk defends this conduct by explaining that the hateful and false anti-Israel information on the “wrappers” has been “taken directly from interviews conducted with Palestinians living in both ‘Palestine’ and Pittsburgh.” Indeed, the “wrappers” – which are pictured on line – say, in tiny, easy-to-miss print, that the text is derived from interviews. Even if this is true, why promote a personal opinion or narrative that Conflict Kitchen knows, or should reasonably know, is misleading and even false, and is likely to incite hatred of Jews and Israel? And why would the University of Pittsburgh tolerate such conduct and in any way support it?

Here are just a few of the many examples of the factual distortions and outright lies that the food “wrappers” promote about Jews and the Jewish State of Israel, with the plain goal of making Israel look an interloper in the region that has stolen Arab land, and an evil and brutal oppressor of the innocent Palestinian Arabs:

 The “wrappers” falsely state that “Israel doesn’t want any non-Jews to become citizens.” In fact, Arabs make up over 20 percent of Israel’s population. Over four percent are neither Muslim nor Jewish, i.e., non-Arab Christians, Baha’i, etc. (http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Society_&_Culture/newpop.html.)All citizens of Israel, regardless of whether they are Jewish or non-Jewish, have the same rights and freedoms.

 The “wrappers” describe checkpoints as extremely difficult and inconvenient for Palestinian Arabs, with not a single reference to why checkpoints exist in the first place – to prevent Arab suicide bombers and other terrorists, whose express purpose is to cross into Israel and murder innocent Israeli Jews, from carrying out their horrific mission. There are checkpoints at every U.S. airport because of the threat of terrorism. If there were no terrorism, there would be no checkpoints, yet the “wrappers” do not acknowledge that essential fact.

 The “wrappers” describe the alleged suffering of the families of “martyrs,” with no explanation that so-called “martyrs” are actually murderers of innocent Jews who, rather than be shunned, are exalted as heroes, and whose families are rewarded with pensions from the Palestinian Arab government. The more Jews they kill, the higher the pensions.

 The “wrappers” characterize the so-called Israeli “settlements” in the “West Bank” (i.e. Judea and Samaria) as having some false and nefarious purpose – to “fragment and isolate Palestinian communities,” to “control the distribution of resources,” so that the “Jewish settlers” get everything and the Palestinians get comparatively nothing, and to let the so-called “settlers watch the Palestinians.”

There is no reference to the fact that Jews have lived in Judea and Samaria since ancient times. The only time they were prohibited from living there was when Jordan occupied the territory, from 1948 through 1967. There is also no reference to the fact that Israel has given away almost half of Judea and Samaria (the so-called “West Bank”) and all of Gaza, where approximately 99% of the Palestinian Arabs live. Israel is not “controlling” the Palestinians in those territories. They are running their own lives. They have their own parliament, their own schools and their own security. Israel’s security forces are present because they have to be – to make sure that Arab terrorists cannot fulfill their mission of targeting and murdering Jews.

 The “wrappers” outrageously justify suicide bombings and other terrorism, and promote the murder of Jews in Israel, with the message that “Palestinians are not going to just let you in and drop their arms. No, they’re going to kill and they are going to die.

In addition to the false and hate-inciting information contained on its “wrappers,” Conflict Kitchen has been hosting programs that encourage biased and false views about Israel and its role in the Middle East conflict, with the unavoidable (and we believe intended) effect of building animus toward Jews and Israel. There is no attempt to at least provide a balanced perspective. Indeed, balance is deliberately avoided; one speaker, University of Pittsburgh Professor Ken Boas, reportedly told the audience at a panel event that “balance” was unnecessary, complaining, “Why do we continually have to have balance and get into debates and have discussions?” (http://thejewishchronicle.net/printer_friendly/26094335.) 

Even an event that Conflict Kitchen innocuously advertised as “an informal lunch discussion about Palestinian food” reportedly turned into a hate fest against Israel.

We understand that Jon Rubin, the Carnegie Mellon art professor who is spearheading the Conflict Kitchen project with one of his former students, responded to complaints about its false and one-sided agenda by committing to host another event at which the anti-Israel falsehoods could be exposed and corrected. To our knowledge, no such panel has taken place or even been scheduled by Jon Rubin.

As should be no surprise, Conflict Kitchen’s impact on students has been serious and harmful. Students are reportedly afraid to speak out against Conflict Kitchen’s hateful tactics for fear of being targeted by other students. Students are also in effect being prevented from speaking up and presenting their views. When one student, who attends the University of Pittsburgh, tried to make a point about SodaStream, an Israeli company employing 500 Palestinians at its factory in the “West Bank,” she was reportedly shouted down. She reported that she felt “unsafe” when she attended a panel discussion at Conflict Kitchen. (http://thejewishchronicle.net/printer_friendly/26094335.) “My questions were being twisted, double standards were created, and people were yelling out at me,” she said. (http://thetartan.org/2014/11/3/news/conflict.)

Conflict Kitchen is promoting anti-Semitism, plain and simple according to the standards that the U.S. government uses, as well as murder of and racism against Jews. When the U.S. State Department issued a report on contemporary global anti-Semitism in 2008, it made clear that “disproportionate criticism of the Jewish State and/or Israelis and demonizing them as barbaric, unprincipled, selfish, inhumane, etc. is anti-Semitic and has the effect of causing global audiences to associate those bad attributes with Jews in general.” (http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/102301.pdf, p. 33 [emphasis added]).

We are virtually certain that if a project targeted and demonized African Americans, Latinos, or gays, the University of Pittsburgh would never condone and legitimize it. The university would rightly condemn it and disassociate itself from the project. Conflict Kitchen may have the right to exist and to promote its hateful views, but it has no right or entitlement to your university’s support.

Another Conflict Kitchen supporter, The Heinz Endowments, has already condemned the “Palestine” program and disassociated itself from Conflict Kitchen. According to the president of The Heinz Endowments, it “emphatically does not agree with or support either the anti-Israel sentiments quoted on Conflict Kitchen’s food wrappers or the program’s refusal to incorporate Israeli or Jewish voices in its material.” Making it clear that it did not fund this project nor would it, the president said the “current program on ‘Palestine’ appears to be terribly at odds with the mission of promoting understanding.” (http://www.bnaibrith.org/press-releases/bnai-brith-calls-on-heinz-endowment-to-disavow-grant-to-restaurant-serving-anti-israel-propaganda-heinz-responds.)

We urge you to show moral leadership and follow the same course, by (1) publicly condemning Conflict Kitchen’s actions and (2) withdrawing all support, financial and otherwise, for this project. The University of Pittsburgh is a leading educational institution in the U.S. whose mission includes promoting diversity and understanding. It should not allow the University’s exemplary name and reputation to be sullied by anti-Semitic propaganda that perpetuates tensions and conflict, and encourages hatred and intolerance. Moreover, the University of Pittsburgh has the legal obligation under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act to ensure that its programs and activities do not create an anti-Semitic hostile environment for students. Violation of the law could risk a loss of federal funding.

We look forward to your response.

Very truly yours,

Morton A. Klein, National President 

Susan B. Tuchman, Esq., Director, Center for Law and Justice

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