Brew haha: Israeli boycott of Turkish coffee won't hold water
by MARSHA B. COHEN
20 Oct 2009 19:35
[ region ] Although Israeli political leaders have been playing down the significance of the fraying relations between Israel and Turkey, Haaretz reports that an Israeli cafe chain, Ilan Coffee, has taken matters into its own hands and has begun boycotting Turkish coffee.
Israelis are peeved that Turkish television has shown a fictional melodrama, Ayrilik, which depicts Israeli soldiers brutalizing Palestinians. Turkey recently refused to participate in a NATO military exercise alongside Israel in order to protest reported Israeli human rights abuses during the Gaza war. Instead Turkey will be engaging in a security drill with its -- and Israel's -- old nemesis, Syria.
What better way for Israelis to show to show their displeasure than by refusing to drink Turkish coffee?
Similar to Cuban coffee in strength, not nearly as refined in flavor as Italian espresso, "Turkish coffee" -- nicknamed botz [mud] in Hebrew -- is prepared by boiling the finely ground beans with water, sugar and cardomom in a long-handled metal pot Israelis call a feenjan. (Turks call the pot a cezve and Arabs a dallah.) When overcooked it becomes bitter, but when prepared carefully, a delicate foam floats on the coffee as it is served, hot and sweet, in small cups. A thick sediment invariably remains at the bottom of the cup when the drinkable portion of the coffee is gone.
Since "Turkish" refers to the method of preparing coffee, rather than coffee that comes from Turkey (Turkey doesn't even grow coffee) the Ilan boycott doesn't impact Turkey at all. Boycotting "Turkish coffee" makes about as much sense as refusing to eat green beans sliced lengthwise ("French style") or re-branding fried potato wedges "freedom fries" in 2003 because France refused to support the US invasion of Iraq. Nor will Turks take the boycott as cultural, since increasing numbers of Turks prefer tea.
"Turkish coffee" was adopted by Israelis from the culture of their Arab neighbors, along with numerous "Oriental" (i.e. Arab foods) Israelis have claimed as their own such as hummous (chick pea dip) tehina (ground sesame seed dip), and falafel (deep fried fava bean croquettes), all of which are usually served with fresh round pita bread. Calling the coffee "Turkish" helps them forget that. According to the Israeli Foreign Ministry website:
The drinking of Turkish coffee has become part of the national folklore in Israel. Songs have even been composed about the coffee and its feenjan pot. Drinking it at the end of a meal or at any other time is a well-established custom in Israel as it is in all parts of the Orient. In fact, in Israel, coffee is the most popular beverage. When peace finally comes to the region, there is no doubt that the historic event will be marked by the drinking of cups of Turkish coffee.
The feenjan indeed has a long history in Israel's national folklore. In the months leading up to Israel's proclamation of its establishment as a state in 1948, a satirical ditty reflected Israeli skepticism that there could or would be any "peace process":
Haruach noshevet krira.
Husseini rotzeh milchama
Farouk rotzeh kol chatikha
Nouri lo rotzeh mahpaycha
yashku li batachat
Sof sof yehiyeh medina.
The wind blows cold. [The first line of the original song.]
[Jerusalem mufti Haj Amin-el] Husseini wants war.
[Egyptian King] Farouk [a notorious playboy] wants every "piece" [attractive female]
[Iraqi Prime Minister] Nouri [al-Said] doesn't want a revolution.
The three of them can kiss my behind --
In the end we're going to have a state.
Since drinking "Turkish coffee" is now off limits, it follows that any serious peace negotiations will probably have to be postponed yet again.
Ironically, even as the Ilan Coffee chain is trumpeting its refusal to serve "Turkish coffee" that didn't come from Turkey, the Israeli government has now "spilled the beans" that the water used to brew non-Turkish coffee may have to come from... Turkey. According to a government memo just obtained by the Israeli news site Y-Net, the Israeli government is negotiating for large-scale importation of Turkish water:
A Foreign Ministry official confirmed the report, saying that "the Water Authority has issued an appeal for purchasing water, and Turkish bodies have responded positively and talks are being held between relevant elements in both countries."
The talks have begun despite the recent crisis over the Goldstone Report, the Turkish decision to exclude Israel from a joint air force drill, and a Turkish TV series showing Israeli soldiers deliberately killing Palestinian children.
Israel was once one of the most water-conscious countries in the world. In the 1960s posters in government buildings pleaded with Israelis not to waste a single drop. But the Six Day War transformed the Israeli attitude toward water from preservation to profligacy. Water became cheaper and abundant as numerous sites above the West Bank's aquifers were among the first areas identified and appropriated for "strategic" settlement by Jews. The seeming abundance of Palestinian water supplies made a peace settlement that returned the West Bank to Jordan less desirable -- and less likely -- than it otherwise might have been.
After forty years of Israeli over-pumping, and record low levels of rain in recent years to compensate for it, Palestinian aquifers are running dry. The idea of importing Turkish water is nothing new. Between 2000 and 2006, Israel negotiated several 20-year water deals with Turkey, but backed out of all of them. Each breakdown were attributed to the high cost the Turks wanted to charge, which apparently was never discussed until after each of the agreements was signed. Turkish water would have been transported to Israel by tanker, which was estimated to cost about twice as much as desalinated water processed in Israel.
But sufficient tenders to actually construct desalinization facilities to meet Israel's growing demands for, and dwindling supplies of, water have not been issued by Mekorot, the Israeli water monopoly. The prospect of a water shortage looms, and Israel will now find itself have to negotiate with Turkey to purchase water at a point when relations between the two countries are at their all-time nadir. Turkey, irate with Israel for having backed out of the agreements reached when times were better, may be more inclined than ever to drive a hard bargain.
Meanwhile, Israelis are comforting themselves by boycotting "Turkish coffee" while the water required to make any kind of coffee or tea -- and actually may come from Turkey -- is what they really ought to be worrying about.
A true "brew haha" in the making...
Marsha B. Cohen covers Israel for Tehran Bureau.
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