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Boycott Israel not Palestinian food says BDS in Virgin Atlantic row Open in fullscreen

Gawan Mac Greigair

Boycott Israel not Palestinian food says BDS in Virgin Atlantic row

Virgin Atlantic has been caught up in the middle of a Palestinian food controversy [Getty]

Date of publication: 1 March, 2018

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Palestine solidarity activists have warned Virgin Atlantic's decision to remove the word 'Palestinian' from its food is continuing to ostracise Palestinian identity.
Palestine's diplomatic corps and the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign have intervened in the row over Virgin Atlantic's decision to remove the word "Palestinian" from a dish on its in-flight menu.

The Palestinian ambassador to the UK accused the British-based airline of lacking "ethical integrity" after it changed the description of a maftoul and couscous salad in response to Israel-favouring complainants.

The BDS National Committee (BNC), which leads the worldwide Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, also rebuked the company, warning that pressure successfully placed on the company to delete the reference to Palestine was part of a "policy of Israeli ethnic cleansing".

The meal was initially offered on all Economy class flights from the UK under the name "Palestinian couscous salad", but within a few weeks was changed to simply "Couscous salad" as a response to what Virgin Atlantic called "feedback".

The airline - whose largest individual investor is Sir Richard Branson - faced a backlash after Electronic Intifada first reported the story in February.
This is yet another example of the power of pro-Israeli pressure groups which want to erase Palestinian identity in any form it takes


Initially the company responded to requests for comment by saying it was "extremely sorry for any offence caused" by its use of the word "Palestinian" - an apology that provoked anger from Palestinians and their supporters, who questioned why the company considered the word to be offensive.

The airline later issued a further statement saying it had "never [intended] to cause offence through the naming or renaming of the dish" - a rewording that did little to stem the growth in criticism.

"This is yet another example of the power of pro-Israeli pressure groups which want to erase Palestinian identity in any form it takes, whether it is expressed in their diverse cultural production, in their folklore or in their rich and varied cuisine - which has grown out of their deep connection to the land, the land they farmed and cared for until their brutal ethnic cleansing in 1948," Ambassador Manuel Hassassian told The New Arab.
 
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"Palestinian maftoul is emblematic of Palestinian rural culture and age-old agricultural practices.

"By succumbing to the bullying of pro-Israeli lobby groups, which are trying to negate maftoul as a Palestinian dish and negate Palestinian cultural heritage as a whole, Virgin Atlantic shows a lack of ethical integrity which should be the guiding principle of its corporate responsibility policy, especially as it is such a successful global business."
Israeli efforts to disappear even the word 'Palestinian' from menus featuring our cuisine become a particularly egregious part of a larger, decades-old policy of Israeli ethnic cleansing


While many social media users called for a boycott of the airline, the BNC, which co-ordinates the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions as ways to apply economic pressure on Israel, stopped short of calling an official boycott.

However, it warned the airline: "Virgin Atlantic should not aid Israel in its efforts to erase Palestinian culture."

Zaid Shuaibi is the BNC's Arab World co-ordinator. "As a company with a mission to connect people, Virgin Atlantic should refuse complicity in Israeli efforts to appropriate or deny the presence of Palestinian cuisine while Israel simultaneously and violently appropriates Palestinian land and pushes us indigenous Palestinians out of our homes," Shuaibi told The New Arab.

"What's at stake is much more than what's on the menu.

"Emboldened by the Trump administration's green light to escalate Israeli attacks on Palestinian life, Israel's far-right regime is dashing forward with its efforts to not only demolish our homes and build illegal settlements on stolen Palestinian land, and otherwise make Palestinian life virtually impossible as it has so clearly done with its ongoing military rule and devastating siege in Gaza, but to deny and erase our very existence as a people.

"In this context, as Israel tries to physically disappear Palestinians, Israeli efforts to disappear even the word 'Palestinian' from menus featuring our cuisine become a particularly egregious part of a larger, decades-old policy of Israeli ethnic cleansing."

Manal Ramadan is the director of the social enterprise Zaytoun, which works with Palestinian maftoul producers.

"To include the provenance of an ingredient on their menu is to pay tribute to its producers, as Virgin Atlantic has done in the case of its 'Toulouse Sausages'," he told The New Arab.

"We are disappointed that Virgin Atlantic has dropped the Palestinian provenance from the 'couscous' on its menu. We invite others to join our call to Virgin Atlantic to reinstate this provenance clearly on their menu, treating hard-working Palestinian producers the same as they would other producers from other countries."

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