Prominent foodblogger who celebrated Israeli cuisine was hosted by org aimed at turning around country’s image

A running story on this site has been the dalliance with Israel of the popular foodblogger David Lebovitz, who lives in Paris. Lebovitz just went to Israel as the guest of a Vibe Israel, a project of Kinetis, a pro-Israel organization, and his food posts exuded love for the country and thoroughgoing ignorance of Palestine. Today Eleanor Kilroy sent along the following notes:

I overheard a woman on my London bus talking about her all-expenses paid trip to Israel and celebrity food blogger David Lebovitz. Because she spoke so loudly on her mobile phone, I figured she had nothing to hide and I approached her to confirm she had been sent by Vibe Israel, and to ask her to remember the Palestinians. I read to her excerpts of Mondoweiss posts on Lebovitz – in particular the comment on his failure to mention that a restaurant he was taken to in Jaffa was Palestinian. She was surprised to hear that too, and in her defence said that they didn’t tell her. In fact they didn’t tell her anything of this kind.

A friendly and sympathetic-seeming woman, she nevertheless said she believed she was in a difficult position as Vibe Israel/Kinetis had paid for everything. I questioned this notion, saying this did not mean she couldn’t criticise the host country. She countered that she didn’t actually see any human rights abuses, as if the only ones that matter are those you witness with your own eyes, and even then you need to know where to look and how to identify them. The apartheid wall was not on her itinerary.

I spoke about Israel’s appropriation of Palestinian culture, which includes their food. The food writer stressed that her subject matter was ‘apolitical’, and I talked to her of ‘Brand Israel’. She did say that she had heard that Lebovitz had encountered criticism of his blogging on Israel. As she got off the bus, she turned and said that she had only discovered afterwards that trip was funded by the granddaughter of Dame Shirley Porter, and beseeched me not to repeat that. I do so now because the information is already in the public domain.

Shirley Porter is a disgraced former Conservative Westminster City Council leader in Britain who has a long association with Israel, lived there for a a number of years, and has been described by one journalist as “the high priestess of Tory sleaze”.

My fellow bus traveller was one of just five food bloggers including David Lebovitz, invited by Vibe Israel. From Vibe Israel’s twitter updates: “Lovely post by an Israel Buddy” takes you to this post, “Zipping through Jerusalem with the food bloggers,” by Sarah, an American foodwriter who lives in Israel, reporting on the trip:

Accompanying Pille [Petersoo] were four other high profile food writers from Europe and the United States who came to eat their way across Israel including David Lebovitz, Erin Zimmer, Cambria Bold and the lovely Kerstin Rodgers.

The woman I met on the bus is Kerstin Rodgers and is the writer of a new book Supper Club: recipes and notes from the underground restaurant. She blogs at Ms Marmite Lover and tweets at @MsMarmitelover. I liked her, and I want to emphasise that this is not an attack on her – but as I tried to point out to her, she is being used for the Brand Israel campaign, and food is very political in the context of Palestine/Israel.

Kinetis, which is behind Vibe Israel, has a prominent mention in a Jewish Chronicle article from 2010: Diplomat’s bid to ‘re-brand’ Israel:

For three years, the urbane diplomat [Ido Aharoni] has headed the Israeli foreign service’s “brand management team”, charged with encouraging people elsewhere to see the country in a more positive light… Much of Mr Aharoni’s work is done in Israel, passing the message on to local groups. As a result, a new organisation has been founded by Dame Shirley Porter’s granddaughter, Joanna Landau; called Kinetis, it is modelled on the Association for a Better New York, created in the 1970s to help turn around the city’s then poor image.

For Israel’s friends, Mr Aharoni has the following advice. Political advocacy is important. “But don’t let it be the only thing you do. Advocating Israel’s positions vis-a-vis the conflict is not going to bring more tourists to Israel or foreign investment.

For bloggers such as Rodgers who are being instrumentalised to show Israel ‘in a more positive light’, I quote the Artistic Director of Palestinian theatre company Ashtar, Iman Aoun, whom I interviewed in April this year:

Culture plays the most important role for us as Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. In culture we’re creators and we are free – we have fought Israeli censorship for years. Culture and art is Palestine’s best product. We can really show people that we are capable of life, able to invent and live despite hindrances, and that we have a voice; this is an important part of resistance. Resistance with words, self-expression, prevents your culture, art and heritage from being stolen. Israel tries to occupy everything from land to embroidery to the food we eat.

Posted in Israel Lobby, Israel/Palestine, Media, US Politics

{ 7 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. ColinWright says:

    Something vaguely similar goes on here. I am always in search of falafel places that are not run by Israelis. Happily, a careful study of the decor will usually tell you who runs the joint. If there’s a poster of Al-Aqsa, you’re safe. Blue and White, take fright.

    The irony is that that theoretically, I should want to encourage Jews to emigrate here and discourage Palestinians from doing the same — so I should patronize Israeli falafel joints. But I just can’t take logic that far.

  2. Roya says:

    She hasn’t seen any human rights abuses? Someone should tweet this to her

    • “She hasn’t seen any human rights abuses”

      That’s because she hasn’t looked and doesn’t want to. Far easier to live in a bubble than face up to what’s staring right back at you, once you open your eyes.

  3. RE: “Prominent foodblogger who celebrated Israeli cuisine was hosted by org aimed at turning around country’s image” ~ Elenor Kilroy

    MY SNARK: For some reason I can’t help but think of “the world’s oldest profession”! ! ! But that can’t be foodblogging, can it?
    Poor, pitiful, cross-dominant (and dyslexic) me.

  4. seafoid says:

    For three years, the urbane diplomat [Ido Aharoni] has headed the Israeli foreign service’s “brand management team”, charged with encouraging people elsewhere to see the country in a more positive light

    FAIL

    What good news has come out of Israel in the last 3 years? anything to undo Lieberman and Bibi ?

    Israeli food focus- here is the famous Israeli sambuca- yes it’s that roman drink with the added touch of a smidgeon of white phosphorous- invented right here in Israel.

  5. chauncey says:

    It’ll be interesting to see just how fervently ‘ol Kerstin toes the line.

  6. seafoid says:

    The newspaper model is broken.This is the Irish angle but it’s the same in the US which is the Zionist target zone.

    link to irishtimes.com

    “He described the digital age as exciting, chaotic and exasperating. “The old hierarchical model of ‘we will tell you the news’ is over,” he said.
    He said internet usage was “exploding” while newspaper circulation was falling.”

    It’s a big effort to get on blogger on side. Fly him over, whine and dine- it’s expensive.
    And I think it shows a problem that Israel has underestimated- the shift in media means you have to influence thousands of opinion formers. And Israel isn’t China. It doesn’t have tens of millions of people to do the groundwork. There are only 8 million Ziobots.

    In the past you could collar the right people at the NYT and the Wapo and the job was done. One Ethan Bronner and he is IDF and he does it for fun. But cultivating individual bloggers is much more risky. It’s like emerging markets stock picking.
    And back to the NYT. They can still pull rank there- but the seepage in the user comments is getting worse and there is nothing the bots can do about it. Because they simply do not have enough people to keep the message on top.