Celebrity chef Gabrielle Hamilton withdrew this week from a planned culinary event in Tel Aviv, delighting anti-Israel activists.
Hamilton, an award-winning chef and the owner of Prune, had been set to feature at the upcoming Round Tables tour. Round Tables, now in its fourth year, is an annual culinary festival held in Israel. Sponsors include private organizations like American Express and the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Hamilton would not comment on her decision to withdraw.
In comments to the Jerusalem Post, Round Tables co-founder Yair Bekier explained that this year’s event would highlight the role of women and their contributions to the culinary world:
This is the fourth year in which we have held the exciting meeting of chefs from all over the world, the local culinary endeavor and the creation of fascinating cultural ties that strengthens Israel’s status as a gastronomic capital on a global scale. This year, we decided to bring the women to the forefront of the stage, to raise awareness of the importance of women in the field and to create a bridge of creativity, one that combines the best chefs with raw materials, local culinary trends, and of course the most talented artists in the world.
Activists from the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement praised Hamilton for her decision. The BDS movement aims to isolate Israel politically and economically in an effort to delegitimize its government and derail its policies. It promotes accusations of Israeli "occupation" and "apartheid."
BDS organizers took credit for the decision, pointing to their earlier calls for Hamilton and other chefs to withdraw.
In October, seventy culinary figures, including some "food stars," wrote an open letter to the participating chefs accusing them of complicity in gross crimes and oppression. The letter warned participation would "normalize [Israel’s] ongoing denial of Palestinian rights." They credited NFL player Michael Bennett and top chefs who have declined to participate in sponsored trips to Israel.
BDS organizers celebrated Hamilton’s decision, and encouraged others to withdraw. "It seems Israel has over-cooked its gastro-propaganda festival," they said in a statement. "It is not too late for the remaining chefs to stand on the right side of history and cancel their participation in Round Tables."
Despite recent victories, BDS activists have hardly turned the tide. Though some public figures and companies have heeded their call and avoided Israel, most have not. In addition to strong pro-Israel support from federal officials, half of U.S. states have passed laws formally opposing anti-Israel boycotts. The Israeli minister in charge of opposing BDS, Gilad Erdan, told visiting American businessmen that Israel was thriving despite the opposition.
"From an economic perspective, the so-called BDS has been a failure," Erdan told the Evangelical Christian audience. "Foreign direct investment in Israel continues to rise, our credit rating is at its highest level ever, we have more startups per capita than any other country, and just last month we had a record number of tourists."
Hamilton first ran headlong into controversy in June when she announced she would work to turn around the Spotted Pig, a New York restaurant roiled by #MeToo allegations. After owner Ken Friedman was accused of serious misconduct and abandoned by his partner April Bloomfield, Hamilton was recruited to turn around the restaurant’s culture and management. Helen Rosner described the Spotted Pig in The New Yorker as "a viper’s nest of sexual misconduct." Hamilton eventually reversed course and called off her partnership with Friedman.
After Hamilton and several other chefs withdrew, five remain scheduled to participate in Tel Aviv.