Buzzfeed’s Business Model and the Expropriation of Arab Cuisine

As the business of journalism evolves and adapts to new digital media, websites like Buzzfeed have captured the attention of millions by combining digestible “listicle”-style articles and user-generated content with traditional reporting. In October 2013, American billionaire Sheldon Adelson launched reThink Israel, a new venture to promote his view of Israel using this new approach. ReThink Israel also exemplifies a new strand of Israeli public diplomacy, or hasbara, called “beyond the conflict,” which promotes Israel by focusing on aspects of Israeli society that are ostensibly unrelated to the Palestinians. Though reThink Israel primarily publishes articles on its own website, it also entered into a contract with Buzzfeed to become a “Brand Publisher,” so a wider audience could see pieces such as “17 Reasons Jaffa is the Brooklyn of Israel” and “12 Sounds From Israel You’ll Soon Be Obsessed With.”

On 10 April, reThink Israel published an article on Buzzfeed with the title “19 Israeli Delicacies that Aren’t Hummus,” and in doing so, it inadvertently stumbled into a contentious dispute of the Arab-Israeli conflict: the expropriation of Arab cuisine. One anonymous Buzzfeed user, identified only as “rumzz,” responded to the article two days later by submitting a list of her own, titled “13 Delicacies that Aren’t Israeli,” to Buzzfeed Community, a forum where any reader of the site can publish content.

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Shakshouka
  reThink Israel: “Poached eggs in pepper and tomato sauce with fresh parsley usually served for breakfast or brunch.”
  rumzz: “Shakshouka means ‘a mixture’ in Arabic slang. It is a staple of Tunisian, Libyan, Algerian, Moroccan, and Egyptian cuisines.”

Falafel
reThink Israel: “Recently gaining global popularity, this deep-fried chickpea delicacy is as common in Israel as burgers are in America.”
  rumzz: “Falafel comes from the Arabic word falāfil, the plural of filfil, It is an amazing vegan food devoured by all humans but remains indigenous Arabic food!”

Couscous
  reThink Israel: “Known in Israel as ‘ptitim,’ this pearl-shaped pasta can be dressed up a thousand different ways. From vegetables to dried fruit and nuts, Israeli couscous can be served on its own or as an accompaniment to fish or meat.”
  rumzz: “A traditional Berber dish. Couscous is known as ‘the North Africa national dish’ shared by Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania, Egypt and Libya. First reference to Couscous was in the 13th-century North African Cookbook: Kitab al-tabikh fi al-Maghrib wa al-Andalus ‘The Cookbook of the Maghreb and al-Andalus.’ In the Levant, a version of couscous is called Maftool among Palestinians or Mughrabiyah among Lebanese.”

Labneh
  reThink Israel: “Labneh is simply a more consistent form of Greek yogurt and can be found as a condiment on many Israeli street foods, including savory crêpes.”
  rumzz: “Labneh is strained yogurt. It is a traditional food in the Levant, Eastern Mediterranean, Near East, and South Asia, where it is often used in cooking. Labneh is a popular mezze dish and sandwich ingredient and is usually eaten with olive oil and sometimes za‘atar.”

Kibbeh
  reThink Israel: “Stuffed with ground meat and a variety of herbs, this savory croquette is an excellent base for tahini, hummus, and grilled eggplant spread.”
  rumzz: “The etymology of the Arabic word kubbeh refers to ‘ball’ or ‘lump.’ It is a Levantine dish made of burghul (cracked wheat), minced onions and finely ground lean meat. It can be made into balls and deep fried, eaten raw, or spread into a tray. It is often eaten with yogurt (laban).”