Israeli buffet at Harvard Business School strikes a chord with Arabs


Globalization brings the world to your table; quite literally when it applies to international cuisine. However what is meant to be marketed as exotic may in fact come off as politically incorrect, such as with the case of the Harvard Business School dining room.

What started off as a simple post shared on social networking site Facebook – Sara el-Yafi's online clarification notice to the caterers on the University's questionable Israeli Mezze Station – spread like wildfire.

“The post was entirely written by me after I saw the picture of the menu on one of my friends' timeline on Facebook last week,” the Lebanese Harvard graduate told Al Arabiya, indicating she is not a campus activist. ”I asked him if he did something about it or was going to do something about it, he said no. So I told him I was going to take the picture and write something about it!”

Hummus, Harrisa, and Halloumi, to name a few, were all historically fact-checked by Yafi, emphasizing with each bullet point that the food item was not Israeli, rendering the name of the station inaccurate.

“If you insist on giving no honor to the Arabs (many of whom are Harvard students/alumni- “hi!”), and/or if you insist on never ever speaking of Arabs in culinary worth (since we're only ever referred to as warmongers and terrorists), at least have the decency of calling it Mediterranean Mezze Station,” Yafi said in her post.

The student said the HBS has many Arab students, and thought that it was necessary to draw attention to the apparent labeling gaffe.

“During my time at Harvard I honestly never saw anything so outrageous. Apparently in the past three-four years, that Israeli Mezze Station has been showing up around campus quite a lot. As soon as I knew that, I thought to myself it's impossible not to write about it and really bring to the attention of the appropriate people that this is simply unacceptable. So I tagged some Harvard alumni on the photograph so they can read and share my post,” Yafi said.

And attention is what she received - in the form of over 3,600 likes and counting on Facebook, not to mention a host of user comments and praises all within one week.

“It shows us that there is an unbelievable level of frustration in the Arab world, and non-Arab world too! Many Turks, Iranians, Europeans, Americans have responded with wholehearted support to my post,” Yafi said.

The frustration Yafi speaks of is cultural misrepresentation, and the importance of having someone who can communicate people's thoughts in an eloquent manner, as she believes she did in her post.

“A person literally said 'If as few as three Arab politicians were putting up a fight half as decent as this lady is doing, we'd all be living in a better Place....” and it got 12 likes...I mean it's a series of many, many great things. For the first time in a long time under our eyes, the Arab world is coming together,” she said.

Yafi said that despite Harvard being one of the top decision makers on world matters; such fence-sitting bodies sometimes don't have their facts in check.

“They just need to be appropriately informed about why [?] What they are doing is very controversial, and often just false. Hopefully, the dialogue scene will then open up with spotlight being given to the cultivated, respectful Arabs, and stop being given to the angry, violent ones, even if the angry, violent ones have very valid reasons to be angry,” Yafi said.

Brian Kenny, Chief Marketing & Communications Officer, Harvard Business School commented on the matter and said: “looking to it and we are deeply troubled that we offended anybody by doing this buffet item, particularly considering that our reason for doing the international buffet each day is to celebrate cultural diversity.”

Kenny said that the school had no intention to offend anybody and gives credit to Sarah for calling their attention through social media.

“We've been following the comments and the posts that she first posted her remarks. It has prompted us to have some extensive conversations here internally both amongst ourselves as well as with the partner that we do our food service with, which is an outside food organization to understand how this happened and to make sure that it doesn't happen again,” said Kenny.