Conflict-themed eatery angers US Jews
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Conflict-themed eatery angers US Jews

Pittsburgh restaurant featuring Palestinian-centric menu and events hits back at pro-Israeli critics

Yifa Yaakov is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

The Turkish dessert of Baklava is a specialty in Palestinian cuisine. (photo credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90)
The Turkish dessert of Baklava is a specialty in Palestinian cuisine. (photo credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90)

A Pittsburgh eatery showcasing foods from countries with which the US is in conflict angered the local Jewish community this week after featuring Palestinian cuisine and Palestinian-centric discussion events as its theme for October.

The restaurant, Conflict Kitchen, features food from a different country or culture every month. In the past, it has featured the cuisines of Afghanistan, North Korea, Cuba, Iran, and Venezuela.

This month, starting October 6, it has showcased its first Arab-themed menu, featuring a range of Palestinian specialties — many of which have long since become Israeli staple foods — such as falafel, hummous, shawarma, baklava, and fresh mint lemonade.

Before featuring the Palestinian theme, the restaurant’s staff went on a trip to the region to research and sample the local cuisine before holding a taste-testing event with the local Pittsburgh Palestinian community.

Among the images of scrumptious dishes and cozy West Bank family kitchens posted on the restaurant’s blog, images of the security barrier and Israeli checkpoints were featured as well.

But it was not the menu of the restaurant, which operates as a takeout joint, that angered Pittsburgh’s Jewish community and cost Conflict Kitchen a University Honors College sponsorship.

The restaurant has not only served Palestinian food this month, but has also held a controversial panel discussion event centering on the Palestinian narrative and cause, co-sponsored by the college.

Freshly fried falafel (photo credit: Rachael Cerrotti/Flash 90)
Freshly fried falafel (photo credit: Rachael Cerrotti/Flash 90)

Featuring both Palestinian and Israeli left-wing speakers, as well as US academics, the event drew 35 participants. The local Jewish community, however, voiced concern that the mainstream Israeli perspective was not represented on the panel.

“We’ve been getting pushback from members of the local Jewish community that aren’t in support of us presenting those types of viewpoints,” Jon Rubin, co-director of Conflict Kitchen, was quoted by Pittsburgh News as saying.

He said that while the Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh had asked that the Israeli perspective be represented at Palestinian-centric events as well, that would go against Conflict Kitchen’s mission.

“The goal of our project is to represent the voices of the people that we are working with, [the Palestinians], so it does not make sense to have someone from Israel on every one of the panels,” Rubin was quoted as saying. “We may have an Israeli perspective at some point, and I understand their desire to have their narrative told, but they have plenty of other formats to do that.”

The newspaper quoted JFP community relations council director Gregg Roman as saying the one-sided focus on Palestine had created a “breakdown between two different camps” rather than starting an “open, humane, civil conversation about culture” both in the US and in conflict areas.

“The Jewish community as a whole has certain expectations of institutions that receive public funding, like Conflict Kitchen, to not carry out programs that may delve into the area of discrimination on national origin,” he reportedly said.

The University Honors College withdrew its sponsorship amid the controversy, but said it would continue to participate in Conflict Kitchen discussions and sponsor free lunches.

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