Falafel, glorious falafel…
First the hummus wars, now the falafel wars. Julian Kossoff, a Daily Telegraph editor, rightfully calls this latest attempt to delegitimise Israel an assault on the heritage of Middle Eastern Jews. (With thanks: Lily)
At the centre of the controversy is the humble falafel – a spicy fried rissole made from mashed chick peas or beans. The dish, a staple for Jews and Arabs alike, has become the latest political football in the delegitimisation of Israel. The anti-Israel activists’ puerile playground whine that “Israel stole all the falafels” would be funny if it didn’t represent a denial of Jewish history – that of theMizrahi, or Middle Eastern Jews, who have always eaten falafel.
In the aftermath of the foundation of the State of Israel, Jews living in Arab nations were targeted in revenge. However, it was Israel that was to have the last laugh as a million Middle Eastern Jews sought sanctuary there and became the country’s demographic – and culinary – backbone. Falafel came to the new country with these ancient communities from Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Libya, and was immediately popular.
In those early years, life in Israel was threadbare and a “meal” of falafel and hummus in pitta bread, eaten from a street corner stand, was the high point of a stroll on a warm Mediterranean evening. Cheap, tasty and neutral when it comes to Jewish dietary laws, the falafel became an iconic part of Israeli cuisine and is often referred to as a national dish (Israelis also claim to have customised the dish by adding an array of salads to the pitta pouch).
Later, Israeli entrepreneurs helped introduce falafel to European and American palates but their initiative angered Arabs and their anti-Zionist sidekicks, who claimed they had stolen it (there’s also a parallel row over hummus). Last year this sparked some comical one-upmanship as 300 Lebanese chefs prepared the world’s largest amount of falafel (5,173 kilos), only for a lateral- thinking Israeli chef to top it by producing the world’s largest single falafel, weighing in at 10.9 kilograms.
Meanwhile, I’ve never come across an Israeli who has ever denied that the falafel is part of a shared Middle Eastern heritage – however troubled that may be.