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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 16 July 2018

'Star of David' keffiyehs set to create next culture conflict

A self-described 'Jewish music label and promotion company' in the US is marketing a version of the traditional Arab headdress complete with stars of David.
The Jewish version of the traditional Arab headdress being marketed by a company in the US.
The Jewish version of the traditional Arab headdress being marketed by a company in the US.

First it was the hummus war. Then it was the tabouleh war. Now get ready for the keffiyeh war. A self-described "Jewish music label and promotion company" in the United States has begun marketing a version of the traditional Arab headdress complete with blue embroidered stars of David, the symbol of the state of Israel.

Shemspeed, based in Brooklyn, New York, began selling the headdress in mid-January, The Jerusalem Post reported last weekend. Erez Safar, the company's founder and director, said the scarf, which also bears the Hebrew slogan "Am Israeli Chai" ("The Nation of Israel Lives"), was created "for the unity it creates among Jews". The keffiyeh has been worn across the Arab world for centuries, but it became a symbol of Palestinian nationalism during the Arab Revolt in the 1930s.

It achieved even greater prominence in the 1960s, when the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat adopted it as a personal trademark and it became a symbol of Palestinian resistance. In an interview with the Post, Mr Safar insisted that Jews have as much right to don the keffiyeh as Arabs. "I think people tend to view Jews as Eastern European and often forget that Arab Jews are also a massive part of our nation," he told the Israeli newspaper.

Jews indigenous to the region, he continued, have worn some variation of the kefyah (cap) and keffiyeh for thousands of years, he said. "When it comes to religious observance, the Muslim tradition of head covering originates from the Jewish tradition." Mr Safar denied that what he called "our Israeli remix of the keffiyeh" was a misappropriation of an Arab and Palestinian symbol. He described it as "just one more interpretation of a scarf worn by our brothers for thousands of years".

That will doubtless become a matter of heated debate, adding yet another front in the cultural battle between Arabs and Jews, which most recently has featured food fights. In 2008, a group of Lebanese businessmen announced plans to sue Israel to stop it from marketing hummus, tabouleh and other regional dishes as Israeli. Since then, each side has attempted to outshine the other. Most recently, a group of Israeli Arabs and Jews gathered near Jerusalem on a Friday and whipped up a dish of hummus weighing in at 4,090 kilograms, setting a new Guinness world record.

The dish exceeded the previous mark set in October by cooks in Lebanon. At the time, the Lebanese chefs called it a move to reaffirm ownership of a Lebanese food they claimed had been appropriated by Israelis. The Lebanese business group was expected to mount a challenge to seize back the crown. Israeli Army Radio on Friday referred to the hummus clash as the "third Lebanon war". cnelson@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Associated Press