Hummus War Looms Between Lebanon and Israel

October 8, 2008 - 8:41 AM
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Beirut (AP) - The latest conflict simmering between Lebanon and Israel is all about food: Lebanese businessmen accusing Israel of stealing traditional Middle Eastern dishes like hummus.
 
Fadi Abboud, president of the Lebanese Industrialists Association, said Tuesday his group plans to sue Israel to stop it from marketing hummus and other regional dishes as Israeli.
 
"It is not enough they (Israelis) are stealing our land. They are also stealing our civilization and our cuisine," said Abboud.
 
He said his group also seeks to claim the eggplant spread baba ghannouj and tabbouleh, a salad made of chopped parsley and tomatoes, as Lebanon's own.
 
Hummus -- made from mashed chickpeas, sesame paste, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and garlic -- has been eaten in the Middle East for centuries. Its exact origin is unknown, though it's generally seen as an Arab dish.
 
But it is also immensely popular in Israel -- served in everyday meals and at many restaurants -- and its popularity is growing around the globe.
 
While Abboud cites a history of complaints by Lebanese businessmen about Israel exporting and marketing Lebanese dishes as Israeli, it's not clear where the Lebanese might file suit since the two countries are officially at war.
 
Israel's Food Industries Association and the Foreign Ministry both declined comment.
 
Abboud compares his suit to the one over feta cheese in which a European Union court ruled in 2002 the cheese must be made with Greek sheep and goats milk to bear the name feta. That ruling is only valid for products sold in the EU.
 
Abboud acknowledged an uphill battle, particularly over hummus -- which Palestinians also claim as their own.
 
"Hummus might be debatable, in any case we will be happy if the Palestinians win... But nobody can even discuss whether tabbouleh or baba ghannouj are Lebanese," Abboud added. "We don't have to win. The important thing is to try."