Israel's 'greenwashing' now extends to co-opting vegetarianism in its 'moral' army of occupation

Israel's 'greenwashing' now extends to co-opting vegetarianism in its 'moral' army of occupation
Comment: Israel is using its tolerance of the 'vegetarian lifestyle' to deceptively market itself in its latest moral crusade, writes Nada Elia.
5 min read
19 Sep, 2017
'Thou shalt not kill animals,' says Pamela Anderson, but Israel says Palestinians are fair-game [AFP]

Last week, the founder of the US-based PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, suggested that peace between Israel and the Palestinians could be achieved through veganism. 

"Peace begins at the breakfast table," Ingrid Newkirk said.

While it is refreshing to see suggestions that go beyond "peace talks" and "negotiations", Newkirk's comments are entirely inappropriate on many levels. 

First, they completely ignore the fact that the two sides of the "conflict" are not equal. One, Israel, is the aggressor, the other is an occupied, dispossessed people, defending their lives, dignity and homeland under siege.

In other words, the Palestinians are not fighting out of a disrespect for the value of life, rather, they are resisting to save their own lives from the assaults of a settler-colonial state that has actively sought to obliterate them since before it was even founded, denying them their very identity as indigenous to the land. 

Palestinian resistance, furthermore, is overwhelmingly non-violent, a determination to keep on, sumoud. This is most obvious today through the global boycott movement, which has been the predominant resistance strategy for the past twelve years, and which seeks to hold Israel accountable, while also sustaining Palestinian culture and livelihood. 

Or is it that PETA has never heard of BDS

One does not ask a people who have been under siege for more than a decade to 'improve' their diet. Does Newkirk know about the siege of Gaza?

Newkirk should also understand that, while a vegetarian lifestyle is indeed moral, and healthy, it is an unconscionable expectation of the two million Palestinians blockaded in the Gaza Strip, who cannot choose their diet, and are at the mercy of what Israel allows into the besieged territory, and what they could smuggle through the tunnels - a lifeline without which malnutrition would be even more pervasive. 

One does not ask a people who have been under siege for more than a decade to "improve" their diet. Does Newkirk know about the siege of Gaza?  

An even more offensive aspect of Newkirk's remarks is her seeming ignorance of the fact that Israel is now actively engaging in exploiting Israelis' affinity for vegetarian food as propaganda, showing how "progressive" the country is. 

And yes, as has often been remarked, much vegetarian and vegan food of the region - hummus, falafel, baba ghannouj, tabbouli, and other such culinary delights - is actually Palestinian in origin, not Israeli.

"Greenwashing" is the term given to spin, or deceptive marketing, highlighting a country or corporation's supposed environmentally-friendly credentials as a virtue deserving of praise.

Israel has long been engaging in this sort of self-promotion, touting its subsidies for solar power generation for its West Bank settlements - illegal under international law - while simultaneously demolishing Palestinian attempts to build a renewable energy infrastructure.

But perhaps now is the time to expand the definition of the term "greenwashing" to include Israel's latest moral crusade - promoting its "vegetarian-friendly culture" as one more way to distract from its egregious human rights abuses, shining a bright light on its otherwise "progressive" trends.

Many critics of Israel will also be familiar with its "pinkwashing" - a similar propaganda campaign whereby Israel promotes itself as a "gay-friendly" country, yet fails to mention the fact that its military has never stopped to ask about Palestinians' sexuality before dispossessing them, bombing them, or denying them of their freedom of movement.

The Israeli military also takes pride in having long accepted openly gay soldiers - as if these soldiers were not soldiers of occupation, engaging in the same human rights violations as straight soldiers.  

Soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces will now be able to get vegan meals, leather-free boots, and wool-free berets on bases throughout the country

In February 2015, the Israeli military proudly announced that it was becoming "vegan friendly", as it began to offer vegetarian soldiers apparently delicious vegan rations.

"Soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces will now be able to get vegan meals, leather-free boots, and wool-free berets on bases throughout the country," gushed VegNews in December 2014. "Meat-free options will be available at every meal, and the red-tape required to declare oneself a vegan has dropped significantly."

Sponsored by Israel21C, the marketing company behind Brand Israel, the buzz around this "green" trend is circulating in "progressive spaces".

Even NPR wrote a feature story about it, concluding with this incongruous quote from the vegan soldier who started the campaign: "We are fighting terror organisations. I believe that the vegan reform in the IDF is paving the way for an even more moral army." 

Major-General Yitzhak Brik, the army ombudsman, toed the PR line acordingly: "I believe the right to food is a basic right, and that it is only right that the IDF take the needs of the vegan community into account - as it does those of other communities."

Clearly, the Israeli army ombudsman does not believe the "basic right to food" extends to Palestinians in Gaza, who have been placed on a near-starvation diet for years, in an illegal act of collective punishment. 

As a result of Israel's blockade of the Strip, a 2012 report shows that more than 58 percent of schoolchildren in Gaza are anaemic, and more than 68 percent of children aged between nine and twelve months, and ten percent of children under five, have had their growth stunted due to prolonged malnutrition. 

Today, in 2017, the situation has become significantly more serious. 

And still, the propaganda about the "morality" of the Israeli army seems to work on most, because of the complete erasure, or dehumanisation, of the Palestinians.  

It is critically important to expose the myopia of the Global North, and the total lack of awareness of the circumstances of Palestinians.

As a vegetarian Palestinian myself, I can assure you that the bullet a vegan soldier shoots at me is going to be as lethal as one shot by a meat-lover. I do not doubt that the leather-free boot a soldier puts into a Palestinian protester's stomach is going to hurt as much as the finest cow-hide.

Is this really a difficult concept to understand? 

Nada Elia is a Diaspora Palestinian scholar, writer, public speaker and BDS organiser.

Follow her on Twitter: @nadaelia48

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.