Activism

Slim Peace’s slim chances for justice

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(Photo: aslimpeace.com)
(Photo: aslimpeace.com)

In the face of growing international solidarity with the BDS call, normalization projects are on the move. Normalization refers to activities that aim to create a façade of equality to obscure disparities between Palestinians and Israelis by placing co-existence over resistance to Israeli oppression against the Palestinian people. Recently, a project titled Slim Peace has made its way from Israel into the United States. Slim Peace has started initiatives in Portland, Reno, DC, New York, and Boston. Within the United States, Slim Peace claims it merely wants to facilitate “nutritionally-based dialogues” between Muslim and Jewish women. While this may appear an innocent attempt to promote interfaith dialogue and nurture better eating habits, it is in reality a normalizing project that exploits the dieting insecurities of women.

Don’t let Slim Peace’s name deceive you, the project is equally as aggressive as its counterparts, going to the lengths of sending a representative to promote at the US Campaign to End Israeli Occupation’s conference this past September. Although, normalizing projects are amorphous, they most commonly take shape on university campuses. It came as no surprise that Slim Peace’s DC representative targeted Muslim Student Associations (MSA) and Arab Student Associations (ASA) in the Washington metropolitan area, promoting the project as a simple nutritional dialogue between women of different faiths.

The Slim Peace project is a product of American-Israeli Yael Luttwak’s documentary A Slim Peace. Working with The Peres Center for Peace, Yael managed to find seven Palestinians and seven Israelis willing to embark on a normalizing event centered on a weight loss plan. She hoped that through weight loss the women could learn to empathize with each other. The film praises its “successful” dialogues and attempts to paint Israeli settlers as progressives, as their preconceived notions that all Palestinians are terrorists that want to kill them disappear. The film fails to realize that by sandwiching the word Palestinian between terrorist and  killer it further perpetuates the orientalist framing that the two are synonymous, whether negated or not.

One cannot help but draw parallels between the players in the current “negotiations” and the women participating in the normalizing project. Both play a role representing Palestinians without embodying any of the values. In A Slim Peace, the silly Fatah-supporting television personality and long-time Palestinian normalizer Ichsan Turkich is given the spotlight as she jokes with Israeli settlers. Ichsan furthers Yael’s absurd claim that the tension and aggression between the two groups stems from a sibling rivalry.

The disproportion between the competencies of the representing parties is also apparent in the DC Slim Peace group, where the Arab representative is a recent graduate and the Jewish representative an established dietician. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon trend plaguing discussions about Palestine/Israel, more often than not Jewish “progressives” are given the stage while Palestinian critical thinkers are lost behind the curtain. To make matters worse the Palestinians that are given a voice are almost always non-representative and create more setbacks than they do opportunities. It’s the responsibility of our community to remain persistent in our efforts for a just solution that addresses all segments of the oppressed, and it is imperative that we continue to call into question the false representation of both our people and our plight.

Slim Peace distinguishes itself from other normalizing projects in not only tokenizing Arabs willing to partake in the dialogues, but charging them fifteen dollars a session to do so! Most normalizing events unfortunately entice Palestinians with incentives such as a permit into Jerusalem, as seen in A Slim Peace¸ because of its lack of incentives abroad Slim Peace may not be seen initially for the normalizing project it truly is. However, if we observe Slim Peace’s advertisement for the campaign it is an obvious archetype of normalization.

Slim Peace

Abroad, Slim Peace sells its program as an interfaith dialogue, although its advertising suggests otherwise. For instance, in a recent Facebook update on the DC Slim Peace group’s page, they found it necessary to distinguish that the Christian participating was Arab. Slim Peace’s showcasing of their project exposes that its true purpose is to create a false parity between the colonizers and colonized. Their appearance on the Today show and featured article in the New York Times did not attempt to hide the goals of the project, as did the DC recruiter. A quote from the organization’s founder, Yael Luttwak, caught my eye in particular as she, “…wondered if the leaders at the time, Ariel Sharon, Israel’s prime minister, and Yasir Arafat, the Palestinian Authority president, might be more likely to talk peace if they tried to lose weight together.” Luttwak’s comment trivializes the occupation of Palestine, casting it instead as a “disagreement” between parties who must learn to see eye to eye, shedding their differences as well as pounds. Adding insult to injury, Slim Peace’s diet plan acts as a distraction to Israel’s imposition of food scarcity in Gaza. I highly doubt the diet Bethany Saab, Slim Peace’s DC representative, refers to in her article I’m in: A Palestinian Diet for Peace is anything like the diet Dov Weisglass, former aide to Ariel Sharon, joked about amongst Israeli officials. “It’s like meeting with a dietitian. We need to make the Palestinians lose weight, but not to starve to death”. [1]

Slim Peace aims to create a façade of equality masking the ugly realities that accompany military occupation and colonization through their dialogue sessions. Slim Peace’s reduction of occupation, ongoing settler-colonialism, and apartheid to a “situation” or “conflict” obscures reality, further perpetuating the pretense that Palestinians and Israelis are on equal footing.  While Yael presents her documentary as comedy centered around women of different backgrounds trying to lose weight together, the only joke is her attempt to pass this off as anything but another film trying to normalize Israel’s apartheid and colonial policies.

Notes & References

Bethany Saab, “I’m in: A Palestinian Diet for Peace”, Huffington Post, 19 September 2013 (accessed 10 October 2013)

Dina Kraft, “Jewish and Muslim, Bonding Over Dieting, The New York Times, 16 March 2013 (accessed 10 October 2013)

Hillel News, “Statement of Jewish Organizations Opposing BDS”, Hillel, 04 February 2011 (accessed 10 October 2013)

PACBI, “Israel’s Exceptionalism: Normalizing the Abnormal”, PACBI, 31 October 2011 (accessed 10 October 2013)

[1] Steven Erlanger, “It’s like an appointment”, New York times, February 18, 2006 (accessed 10 October 2013)

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“Normalization refers to activities that aim to create a façade of equality to obscure disparities between Palestinians and Israelis by placing co-existence over resistance to Israeli oppression against the Palestinian people. Recently, a project titled Slim Peace has made its way from Israel into the United States. Slim Peace has… Read more »

So now the hasbara agents have not just targeted homosexuals and lesbians but overweight females? Anything to throw up a smoke screen to hide the on-going Israeli land-grabbing, home demolishing, the picking on Palestinian kids and their culture, trying to erase it?

Who wouldn’t want two enemies to come together and talk about common human problems everyone shares? But with the Palestinian hunger strikers in Israeli prisons, along with the “put Gaza on a diet” comment the author mentions, this whole thing seems like a sick joke…like Hermann Goering getting weight loss… Read more »

Hophmi, as Annie said, if this was a one-off situation you’d have a point. But it’s just another installment in an overall, long-term process of showcasing the “feel good” side of a decades-long, dehumanizing Occupation and colonization project. A better take on this would be to ask how this program… Read more »

@Tareq — I’ve always been strongly of the opinion that anti-Normalization is a terrible terrible terrible idea with a long history of failure. From 1922 on there has been this idea that if Arabs just stand together and boycott Jews / Israel / Zionism… the whole thing will disappear. IMHO… Read more »