Can't stand the conflict? Get out of the Kitchen

Pittsburgh eatery Conflict Kitchen recently launched a Palestinian menu and hosted a program of events that has incited debate both within and outside the immediate Pittsburgh community.

According to its website, Conflict Kitchen aims to use food and discussion to dig underneath “the polarizing rhetoric of governmental politics and the narrow lens of media headlines.”
In addition to preparing Palestinian food, Conflict Kitchen also hosts events and distributes literature promoting Palestinian voices and arguably pro-Palestinian content on both culture and politics.

The literature consists entirely of interviews, which provide the opinions of Palestinians living in both Palestine and the United States. Statements range from culturally enlightening — “Our culture dictates that the woman decides on her spouse” — to politically incendiary — “How can you compare Israeli F-16s, which are some of the best military planes in the world, to a few hundred homemade rockets?”.

The Palestinian focus has sparked conversations locally as well as outside Pittsburgh. Though the eatery owners have said that the majority of responses have been positive, some national publications have painted Conflict Kitchen as vividly anti-Israel, and even anti-Semitic. The Washington Beacon describes the eatery as “a food cart that hands out anti-Israel propaganda.” The Jewish Press features a harshly worded subheading, “Anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism come in 57 varieties. Just ask Heinz,” referring to The Heinz Endowment, a Conflict Kitchen sponsor.

Distorting the mission and message of Conflict Kitchen in such radical terms is dangerous. The restaurant may well be advocating a particular viewpoint — after all, there are no Israeli interviews or food options offered — and it is within its rights to do so.

However, the viewpoint presented should be evaluated on its own merits and faults, not tied to blanket rhetoric as a weapon for either side of the debate. Conflict Kitchen is giving voice to a subset of perspectives and through them promoting thoughtful conversation. Printing an interview with a Palestinian that naturally offers pro-Palestinian sentiments without offering further commentary is a far cry from being wholly anti-Israel or anti-Semitic.

Many of the conversations surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, especially on our campus and others, are sensitive and nuanced, but in such an emotionally fueled debate — even for geographically distanced Americans — divisive rhetoric can bleed into the dialogue.

Conflict Kitchen exists to educate community members and start discussions about global conflicts. When we dismiss voices in the debate with blanket labels like “anti-Israel,” we are shutting down that discussion.

It is important to recognize the conflict-fueling language that pervades our media and the ways we can become susceptible to it. Presenting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in black-and-white terms not only misrepresents a murky and complex issue; it fuels a dichotomy that doesn’t inherently have to exist. The continued failure of diplomacy to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict can only be exacerbated by oversimplification of this complex, multifaceted set of issues.

Branding a pro-Palestinian message as necessarily anti-Israeli, or vice versa — the very polarizing rhetoric and narrow lens that Conflict Kitchen aims to combat — will only worsen the divide.