One year ago, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at DePaul University launched a campaign to remove Sabra Hummus from campus shelves after confirming that Sabra’s parent company, the Strauss Group, provides material and financial aid to the Israeli military. Although a vote by the student body overwhelmingly supported the divestment campaign, the university’s administration ultimately chose to continue selling the product. Earlier this school year, however, the university introduced an alternative hummus brand that appears to imply that DePaul is in fact inching towards socially-responsible investment.
Recapping the campaign
Students with SJP at DePaul identify the introduction of this product as a sign of victory for the year-long campaign. It all began when students found evidence of Sabra’s ties to the Givati and Golani Brigades, two elite Israeli military units cited by various human rights organizations for their flagrant violations of human rights law. After establishing Sabra’s complicity in the illegal occupation of Palestine, students called on the campus administration to remove the product completely.
Initially, the administration obliged but, after receiving pressure from community and lobby groups, chose to forego its Vincentian values and reinstate the product. The case was reviewed by DePaul’s Fair Business Practices Committee, and the Student Government approved it for a campus-wide vote.
Of the 1,467 votes cast during the election, nearly 80% were in favor of total divestment from Sabra. Despite this large margin of victory, the voter turnout did not reach the required 1,500 students so the results were considered invalid. Nevertheless, months after SJP presented its proposal for the first time, the campus administration quietly obliged to SJP’s requests and introduced an alternative hummus product for the student body.
A quiet introduction
What is most striking about this alternative hummus product is that it was introduced very quietly. Only after SJP contacted the administration did DePaul’s campus authorities release a statement concerning the Chartwells-brand hummus.
Although the statement generically announces that the new hummus offers students with a greater selection, it is understood that the university implicitly opted to avoid pressure from lobbyist and special interest community groups. The university must certainly be aware that offering an alternative and less-expensive hummus product will inevitably mean fewer sales for Sabra. This quiet introduction of the product should therefore be seen as part of a greater strategy to minimize ties with groups linked to human rights violations without sparking negative pressure.
A campaign of notable merit
Equally important is DePaul’s decision to introduce an alternative product months after the student referendum took place. This indicates that the deliberation within the administration continued well after the end of the school year. DePaul found notable merit in SJP’s concerns and chose to pursue the matter, albeit slowly, until a deal was reached with Chartwells.
DePaul has, by all means, set a new precedent, at least within Chicago’s colleges and universities, by giving divestment campaigns the legitimacy they deserve. When DePaul students approached the university’s administration with its Vincentian values published in educational packets detailing Sabra’s role in the violation of human rights and international law, DePaul quickly heeded to the call and removed the product without further consideration. Although Sabra was reinstated and ultimately kept on campus shelves, the university did not marginalize the student body’s concern. In similar efforts at different universities in the past, when divestment campaigns came to a close, administrations moved on. But in DePaul, the administration recognized the damaging impression that its investment in Sabra has left on it.
For those convinced that the introduction of a new brand of hummus at DePaul University is nothing more than coincidental, the question must be asked: Why offer homemade hummus when both Chartwells and DePaul have the capabilities of providing students with more conventional products?
This was not a random move. As a matter of fact, any action that DePaul takes regarding hummus for the next few years will not be random in any way. After recognizing how important this divestment campaign means to students, faculty, and alumni, DePaul will take no chances in how it handles hummus on campus.
DePaul has hashed out the details with Chartwells by contract, it is safe to assume. DePaul is also aware of the extra costs this alternative might incur – no matter how negligible – for ingredients and packaging. It is clear, then, that the introduction of Chartwells-brand hummus was a calculated decision by DePaul to show that it indeed takes into consideration all matters that contradict its founding values.
Sabra as a tool for education
From the outset, the divestment campaign against Sabra was incorrectly framed as an attempt to marginalize both Jews and their appetites. Lobby groups pressured students and administrations into ignoring the facts tying Sabra to the Israeli military’s systematic abuse of international and humanitarian law. Up until the introduction of an alternative product, this tactic seemed to hold the administration in check. It is therefore important to recognize the administration for transitively dispelling the misconceptions and obliging to SJP’s demands – to offer an alternative.
Although Sabra remains on DePaul’s campus, SJP intends to use it as a tool for educating the student body on how certain companies profit from occupation and human rights violations. Social responsibility is key in SJP’s mission at DePaul University.