Thankfully you can still find pasta that doesn’t piss off gay people. And if you are a bit of contrarian and want to piss off straight Arabs in Israel then just say the words Al Arz. It’s a brand of tahini paste. Nazareth is mainly a Muslim and Christian town, and yes it’s the one from the Bible and today it’s home to the country’s only Arab-owned tahini paste company. Al Arz has come under fire and is facing a boycott for supporting a LGBTQ organization creating a hotline for LGBTQ Arab youth.
Let’s just say tahini (also known as tehina, tehini, techina) is a big deal in Israel. It may even be bigger your sexuality. It’s the glue that holds hummus together and it’s like salt and pepper to every Levantini table. But when this brand decided to help support an Arab LGBTQ group, its straight patrons called for a boycott of Al Arz.
Responding to the boycott calls, Al Arz promised to give even more support to the LGBTQ community.
On a local Whatsapp community group in Jaffa, which is a mixed group of Arabic, Hebrew and English speakers, one member Moti White encouraged his friends to buy more, not boycott the tehina, citing it as “the first Arab-owned business in Israel to actively and openly support the LGBTQ population by giving funds towards creating an Arabic-language phone hotline for struggling LGBTQ youths.” he says.
“LGBTQ people in Israel are now posting pictures of themselves with this brand in order to spread awareness,” says White 31, editor and singer, claiming the movement is being led by Muhammad Zoabi, a local gay Arab activist and vegetarian, vocal in leading the way against the boycott.
Zoabi’s statements in both Hebrew and Arabic:
Here is a previous video featuring Zoabi, who defines himself as gay and vegetarian:
“We in the Al Arz Tahini family love people without differentiation between religion, sex, gender or color. Food connects people. And so do we. We will continue to be an open house and empower disadvantaged sectors whatever they may be,” the statement from the company stressed.
While many Arab Israelis are socially very conservative, especially the Muslim population, LGBTQ Arab Israelis have slowly been taking a more front-facing role. This past May Ayman Safiya, a renowned Arab Israeli dancer drowned in the sea and his funeral brought out thousands of mourners, despite his queer identity.
The Middle East is not always kind to gay people, men especially. You can go to jail for being gay in Iran – or worse be hung like this 31-year-old Iranian man last year. Sharia law does not permit gay sex. In Israel, on the other hand, you might have a better social life if you are part of the gay community.
I was just walking my kid home from his friend’s playdate and two gay guys in front of me were commenting in Hebrew on the quality of the local men in Jaffa. It’s tough now that tourism is cancelled because of Covid-19. The Pride Parade was cancelled. That sucks. Tel Aviv-Jaffa is one of the lesbian and gay capitals of the world, but when those borders expand to Nazareth, a predominantly Muslim and Christian community, the rulebook isn’t so clear. Or better put, you might be walking a slippery slope.
And yes people we are talking about food. We cared about Barilla and its anti-gay statements; likewise the heteros can’t mess with our tahina. We like it in so many ways and it belongs to all of the Middle East (as does hummus – see hummus wars), in all its tasty varieties.