Lebanese TV Spots to Israel: "Hands Off Our Dishes"

"Hands off our dishes," is the slogan of a popular media campaign aimed at featuring traditional Lebanese foods and debunking claims their recipes are Israeli in origin.

"Isn't it enough they've seized our lands? Here they are trying to seize our heritage and dishes," say the closing credits of a series of 15-28-second TV spots signed by Fady Abboud, president of the Association of Lebanese Industrialists (ALI) (http://www.ali.org.lb/BOM.asp).

In one clip, Lebanese pop star Yuri Muraqqadi's "Arabiyyon Ana" (I'm an Arab) song plays in the background as the camera focuses on hands chopping parsley and scallions and mixing them into a tabbouleh bowl (a typical Lebanese salad that includes tomatoes, grape leaves and cracked wheat); hommos (mashed chick peas, or garbanzos, with sesame paste) being richly doused with olive oil; falafel (bean and chick pea patties) sizzling in deep oil and being sandwiched in Arabic (not Pita, which is Greek) bread; and, traditional Arabic desserts like baqlawa receiving generous ladles full of syrup.

Other dish-specific ads show hands making hommos, falafel, tabbouleh and baqlawa, which the ALI insists are originally Lebanese and over which it plans to sue Israel in the European Court of Justice.

"The damage isn't just material, it's also moral. Israel continues its assaults on Lebanon, it robs our heritage and cultural identity, our music, and now it's going after our kitchen," ALI's Abboud told the pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat (www.asharqalawsat.com).

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Asharq Al-Awsat logo

He said Greece had succeeded in laying claim to the name "feta" for its white cheese and through litigation in Europe had barred manufacturers in other countries from calling similar cheeses they made "feta."

Abboud added ALI's aim was to prevent Israel from using Lebanese product names in marketing its goods.

He hopes to win the day since Lebanon is signatory to a partnership agreement with Europe and is seeking European protection of its food trademarks.

According to ALI research, hommos, kibbeh (a dish of meat, cracked wheat, onions and pine nuts served in a platter or in elongated balls) and sfee-ha (a thin meat and pine nuts pizza) reached Brazil in 1862 where the current Lebanese émigré community is several million strong. Lebanese emigration waves to both Americas began in the 19th Century.

"The first hommos bi tahini (chick peas and sesame paste) can was produced in the Middle East and exported from Lebanon in the 1950s," Abboud noted.

For years Arabs and Arab-Americans have bristled at what they've perceived as Israel's "chutzpah" in marketing Arabic dishes and products under Israeli labels.

Lebanese business people attending food trade fairs in Europe and the United States are often shocked to find Lebanese foods and mezzes (Arabic equivalents of dim sum or tapas) being exhibited as traditional Israeli products.

Abboud said the European Court of Justice would investigate the matter to ensure the dishes' authenticity, adding he was sure of winning the case.

The ALI also wants to register Lebanese produce names as trademarks starting with Bekfaya peaches (named after a mountain town east of Beirut) and Sannine apples, in reference to the mountain region where they're grown.

After Europe, Abboud plans to head to the United States where ALI will register the Lebanese products.

The TV ad campaign is being promoted and supported by Fatafeat (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/magda-abufadil/fatafeat-all-you-can-eat_b_99246.html), the first and only Arab food channel (www.fatafeat.com), that began airing the catchy spots nine days ago.

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Fatafeat logo