Lebanese Law Suit: The Israelis Stole Humous From Us

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Lebanese Law Suit: The Israelis Stole Humous From Us

Postby Daniel Rogov » Wed Oct 08, 2008 12:56 pm

Starting about twenty-four hours ago my cell-phone, my regular phones, my email and my fax machine started demonstrating signs of going absolutely bonkers. It all started with an Associated Press report, later picked up by the Jerusalem Post (see their article at
http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite? ... 2FShowFull ) about the fact that Lebanon is considering suing Israel because "Israelis stole the recipe for humous" from them. I have since been interviewed by phone by AP, Reuters, The New York Times, the Boston Globe, The Guardian and several others about what I think of all of this. Sheesh…even our own Robin Garr sent me an email about this….

I'll admit that when I first heard about the potential lawsuit I burst out with a guffaw of laughter.

First of all, I congratulate those who thought of the idea as demonstrating that at least some Lebanese can be as gifted with out-and-out chutzpah as any Israeli. Second of all, the claim that humous is uniquely Lebanese is even more ridiculous than the claim that it is Israeli.

Four thousand years ago, as today, the main starch staples of the diet of the entire Middle East (let's say from Egypt up to and including Mesopotamia) were wheat, rice, lentils and humous beans. The most popular vegetable was eggplant; spices and herbs such as cardamom, parsley, rosemary, thyme, coriander, cumin and mint were used lavishly as were the various members of the onion family, including garlic. Lemons and peppers were popular; the principal cooking oil was olive oil; yogurt was widely used; and even though fresh fruits were the most popular dessert, sweets were much appreciated. Even then, eggplant was roasted, stuffed, fried or pureed; humous and tchina were already popular; and any vegetable large enough to have been stuffed was likely to have been filled with some combination of meat, vegetables and rice.

At that time no country or area had special claim to any of these foodstuffs or dishes made from them. As to tracing the source of humous we will probably have to return to Pharaohnic Egypt for clay jars that once contained ground chickpeas (humous beans) have been uncovered in the tombs of at least half-a-dozen Pharaohs, those along with other jars of spices, herbs and olive oil. And what were those meant for if not for the servants of the Pharaoh (who were frequently buried along with him whether they had reached their natural life-span or not) to prepare humous for him … well, and probably some falafel balls as well.

More than that – to the best of my knowledge, since the time Moses sent his spies out to explore the land and up to the current date – no Israeli has ever been dumb enough to claim humous as an Israeli invention.

Should it ever come to court, it will make a fascinating trial. Depending on where the trial is held, I will try to attend.

Several years ago I wrote a piece for an American magazine entitled "5000 years of Culinary History". Should anyone care to make their way through that, the article can be found online at http://www.stratsplace.com/rogov/israel/5000_years.htm

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Re: Lebanese Law Suit: The Israelis Stole Humous From Us

Postby Shel T » Wed Oct 08, 2008 1:17 pm

Hey Daniel, are you likely to be called as a witness for the defense? LOL, with all the crap going on worldwide, we can use a little light relief and this is the kind of "show trial" that could do it and your testimony would be the highlight!
And don't you think that Egypt with their prior claim should sue Lebanon? I'm looking forward to seeing how this progresses and as this could start a trend, maybe we can get Peru to sue McDonald's for making fries without attribution and a royalty!
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Re: Lebanese Law Suit: The Israelis Stole Humous From Us

Postby Daniel Rogov » Wed Oct 08, 2008 3:05 pm

Shel, HI....

Best ever with regard to law suits was when I was called as a witness by the court in the case of a chef/restaurateur who was suing a journlalist. Actually an interesting trial, raising many moral and social questions. Towards the end of five or more hours of testimony, the judge asked me whom I thought was "right" in this case. I suggested that I was neither an attorney nor a judge and that decision was up to her. She insisted, saying that she wanted my opinion.

I asked the court's permission to be "a bit vulgar" and that was granted. At which point I stated that both the chef and the restaurateur were both "shmucks", and then proceded to say precisely why I considered each of them to fall precisely in that category.

Were I to appear in a trial such as that now under discussion, I fear that I would have to use the word "bullshit" on quite a few occasions.

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Re: Lebanese Law Suit: The Israelis Stole Humous From Us

Postby Bill Spohn » Wed Oct 08, 2008 3:18 pm

Wow - that American presence in the Middle East must really be having an effect.

Looks like some of the inhabitants are looking to settle things the American Way (dueling lawyers at 20 paces, at the drop of a hat) instead of with things that go boom! Progress of a sort, I suppose.
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Re: Lebanese Law Suit: The Israelis Stole Humous From Us

Postby Daniel Rogov » Wed Oct 08, 2008 4:00 pm

I get sued or threatened by law suits several times every year by either restaurants or wineries that are unhappy with my reviews. For better or worse, to date, I have refused to make "nuisance settlements" and have never lost in court. One of the best ever when a local producer of a certain kind of meat (hint - it comes from a large bird) sued me because I wrote that although the meat in question was lower in cholesterol than beef it was also considerably lower in flavor and had a texture that made the meat stick to the roof of the mouth.

When the case finally arrived in court, the lawyers started their usual and expected spiel. I stood up and asked if I might say a few words. The judge, an intelligent woman, said that I might. I told her that I could settle this case within four hours. She asked how. I responded that I would gladly invite her to lunch and we could taste two steaks side by side - the first of the meat in question, the second of fillet of beef and that if she decided that I was wrong I would be willing to pay the claim out of my own pocket. Her response: "Courts in Israel don't work that way". My response in return was to the effect that if she wanted to waste a year or more or her time, my time, the court's time and the money of the state on this silliness that was fine with me.

She thought for a moment, said that we would all (lawyers, she, me) meet at 1 p.m. and make our way to the restaurant that I had chosen. Once ensconced, I ordered four dishes - one of the steak in question and one of beef fillet, neither with sauce and one of each of the steaks with Bearnaise sauce. The judge sat there, tasting like a true pro, a bit of this, a bit of that....not saying a word. Towards the end of the tasting she said that we would all meet again in her court at 4 p.m.

At the reconvening of the court, the judge called the lawyers of both sides to the rail. She also called me. She covered the microphone, much as they do on television programs and said: "You know what. Every word that Rogov said is true. Your meat tastes like shit. I suggest that the attorneys from both side go to the corridor, decide that this case is frivolous and return here in ten minutes. And if not, woe be to you." The case was dropped ten mintues later.

One day I'll tell the story of what happened with me and the producers of the products that carry the "Rich" labels.

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Re: Lebanese Law Suit: The Israelis Stole Humous From Us

Postby Bill Spohn » Wed Oct 08, 2008 4:27 pm

That is a great story!

A bit surprising that you managed to inject a bit of practicality into a process often lacking in same, and the judge did exactly the right thing - made no finding but warned what would happen if settlement failed.

One of my frequent problems as a Canadian lawyer are all the clients that watch American TV. They keep showing up on my doorstep, complaining that they want to sue someone and are put off when I respond that before they can do that we actually need to have an actionable wrong committed, and that wounded pride etc. aren't actionable in our courts (not yet, anyway).

They sometimes take my advice and sometimes huff off to find someone that WILL take their case. Unfortunately there is no shortage of lawyers who require only a retainer, not a cause of action, before they leap to litigation (I'd say the immigration restrictions from the US were too lax, but I expect it is just Canadian lawyers also watching too much TV or being too rapt with Mammon to care). One former client spent $60,000 on legal fees only to end up with exactly the result I told them they'd get in the first place.
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Re: Lebanese Law Suit: The Israelis Stole Humous From Us

Postby Shel T » Wed Oct 08, 2008 6:40 pm

Daniel, during the "your meat sucks" trial, you clever devil, bet you deliberately chose a resto for the judge's lunch that hadn't a clue how to prepare and cook ostrich, marinated and seared and so you got away with one!
Re the other case where you were a witness, presumably the restauranteur was pissed off at a bad review and decided to sue the journalist and screw 'freedom of the press' or whatever it's called in Israel, assuming that it's a viable concept in the country.
As you keep up with what's going on out there, am sure you're aware of a couple of supposedly 'successful' suits by the restos in the last year or so, one in Australia and I think the other maybe in Canada. I also know that both cases were being appealed (obviously) but don't know the outcome if there is any. Can you shed any light on them?
And...with all the litigious types out there and their numbers growing exponentially, does it make you more cautious in the reviews you write and that maybe you'll fire just 15 of the guns instead of all 21?
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Re: Lebanese Law Suit: The Israelis Stole Humous From Us

Postby Daniel Rogov » Thu Oct 09, 2008 4:31 am

Shel, Hi....

There are indeed times when restaurateurs/chefs/winemakers and others get "pissed off" at journalists and sometimes for good reason. The critic, for example, who receives a dish with Hollandaise sauce and then writes as if he his dish had come with demi-glace; who writes about a dish that has never been offered at the restaurant; who reviews a restaurant badly because he does not "like" the owner or has a personal bone to pick with the chef; the one who insists that unless he receives six bottles of a wine, he will not review that winery's products; the wine critic who is a paid consultant to one or more wineries and upgrades their wines in his reviews while downgrading those of other wineries, etc. The critic who is involved in what some call "nouveau journalism" who freely uses vulgarities or writes in an extremely provocative manner (e.g. "this chef is a phoney and is stealing your money". The question here is not whether one enjoys nouveau or yellow journalism but of the journalist knowing the line between reportage-interpetation and libel. There is also, of course, the question of good taste.

From the "other" point of view - that is to say, not of the criticized but of the critic - I am fully for freedom of the press and to the role of the critic. Simply stated, the critic who is loved by everyone who falls under the critical eye is a poor critic indeed. There are, however, tests - the critic must write in sincereity and not from other motives, he must be reporting and interpreting as he honestly perceives the issues, and he should not be writing with the explicit and sole purpose of harming the person or institution under criticism. Of course the critic, also performing a public act, must realize that he too is subject to criticism. Although the critic need not be a candidate for sainthood, he must remain "clean".

With regard to the several cases now awaiting adjudication in higher courts, I feel no nervousness or fear on the part of either my colleagues or those attorneys who are watching those cases. Truth is one always feels a certain amount of fear when being sued but that, I suppose is a natural reaction even when the case is rather empty or frivolous.

As for myself, I do of course consider legal ramifications in precisely how I write and say something. On the other hand, I never hold back. When I do have to "kill" a restaurant or a wine though, I try to do so as a gentleman but if its the 21 guns that are deserved, by heaven those guns are all aimed well and fired. Like several other restaurant critics, for example, I often use a closing or "bottom" line to end my reviews. Several examples: Worth mulitple visits no matter where you live in the country; I intend to return frequently; Worth making a regular port-of-call; I will return but only on hearing that things have improved dramatically; worth visiting if you happen to be in the neighborhood; or, I suppose the worst.....I see no reason whatever to want to return.

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P.S. and with a smile: With re your post above, did I ever use the word "ostrich"?
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Re: Lebanese Law Suit: The Israelis Stole Humous From Us

Postby Shel T » Thu Oct 09, 2008 4:09 pm

No Daniel, you never used the word "ostrich", and you also didn't deny that you're a clever fella and got away with one!
Re food critics, agree with everything you wrote, taste and integrity should be mandatory, and those lacking one or both should...well let's see what's appropriate...how about being burned at the "steak"!
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Re: Lebanese Law Suit: The Israelis Stole Humous From Us

Postby Bill Spohn » Thu Oct 09, 2008 4:25 pm

Daniel Rogov wrote:P.S. and with a smile: With re your post above, did I ever use the word "ostrich"?



No, but as your post was so 'emuzing' we read between the lines. :mrgreen:
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Re: Lebanese Law Suit: The Israelis Stole Humous From Us

Postby Stuart Yaniger » Thu Oct 09, 2008 10:47 pm

Tomatoes? 4000 years ago?
"A clown is funny in the circus ring, but what would be the normal reaction to opening a door at midnight and finding the same clown standing there in the moonlight?" — Lon Chaney, Sr.
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Re: Lebanese Law Suit: The Israelis Stole Humous From Us

Postby Daniel Rogov » Thu Oct 09, 2008 10:52 pm

Stuart Yaniger wrote:Tomatoes? 4000 years ago?



Indeed not! Corrected above. Thanks to you for picking that up and apologies to the New World.

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