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Brew haha: Israeli boycott of Turkish coffee won't hold water


20 Oct 2009 19:353 Comments

[ 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
Shloshtayhem beyachad
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.

Copyright © 2009 Tehran Bureau

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""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)..."

Excuse me Marsha, but considering Jews are a middle eastern people and most Israeli Jews are of immediate Middle Eastern descent (Iraq, Yemen, Syria) it is as much Jewish food as it is Arab. These foods, many of them anyway, predate the Arab conquests of the 7th century AD.

Not to take away the culinary achievements of the Arabs, but you do not need to resort to lies and distortions about Israeli culture.

Benjamin Briton / October 23, 2009 12:30 AM


The actual point is not about drinking or not drinking what is know as the “Turkish coffee (TC),” which is as Dr. Cohn reports is about preparing the coffee in certain (Turkish) way rather than growing it in Turkey.

The refusal to drink TC is rather a symbolic gesture by those irrational thinking Israelis who wish to express their displeasure with Turkey’s critical stand on Israel’s war crimes and human rights violations in the latest Gaza offensive.

In reality no country is always right on all the national, regional, and international issues. This is why we should look at the issues one by one, and each in its own context.

However, the cooling relations between Israel and Turkey should not puzzle anyone. Let us look at the facts. Palestinians have long been under occupation, and they are still under occupation both in the West Bank and Gaza because Israel controls land, sea, and air. Another tragic fact is that Israel has long committed all sorts of atrocities against Palestinians.

Israel’s key pretext has long been to hide behind the Holocaust victims, and justify its cruel inhumanity against the Palestinians. Turkey doesn’t deny the Holocaust and its victims’ place in history. My position is the same.

Unfortunately, the sad reality is that Israel’s actions are directly hurting and dishonoring the rightful position of the Holocaust and its victims that have marked the inhumanity of history with their own blood and ashes.

In fact, with the exception of internationally well-organized Jewish lobby and its members, great majority of the world populations are on the side of Turkey and not Israel.

The citizens of the world including many with Jewish backgrounds -- together with many rational thinking Israeli Jews as well -- condemn Israel’s latest barbaric offensive in Gaza.

Therefore, all that matters is to be on the side of the “truth” no matter whose side that turns out to be! This is why drinking or not drinking TC has no significance.

Dr. Kazem Zarrabi,
Copenhagen, Denmark.

Prof. Noam Chomsky's recent address on the Israeli atrocities in Gaza. Jan. 13th, 2009 Wong Auditorium, MIT Cambridge, MA

Dr. Kazem Zarrabi / October 23, 2009 12:47 AM

Dissident Iranians in their own way always seek approval from other Iranians, who they believe are pious by making their enemies enemy, thier enemy.
Its a foolish thing to do because it gives legitimacy to a ideology and a regime that only cares about money and power and exploits our people through religion.
But, lets be truthful, if Turkey sent 6000 missiles into Iran, how would Iran react? Instead everyone makes this a religious scenario and i, who was born in Tehran personally feel no ill thoughts towards Israel and approve of the handling of the War in Gaza.
If you really want to see change, we should all befriend the state of Israel in order to "be the friend of my enemies enemy" and stop with these stories that are written by so called Docters with Arabic names that suite their own agenda.
On a side note could you imagine a world without Israel, The Arabs and Iranian Arabs would still fight about something, anything because the religion of Islam allows it and i believe since its birth, their has never been peace. So in conclusion i hope Israel knocks these Arab Persians back to Cyrus's era so Cyrus the Great can remind them we are Persians by culture and indentity, not Arab and we should stop robbing women from their basic human rights while pretending the worlds problems is the state of Israel. The real problem is so much more.

Mumbo Jumbo / October 24, 2009 3:05 PM