Grounds for Reconciliation? Turkish Coffee as Israeli Peacemaker

A bag of Israeli-branded "Turkish" coffee

I was watching TV yesterday when I stumbled across this commercial, made by Strauss Group, an international food & beverage company and one of Israel’s most well-known brands globally.

For those who do not understand the Hebrew, here is a play-by-play:

Obviously, there is a guy sitting in an interview. He is asked by the secretary what he would like to drink. His first reply is “diet grapefruit juice.”

But then his conscious kicks in, critiquing his apparently inappropriate choice.

“What are you doing? Think long and hard about what you just ordered. You are sitting across from a general in the reserves, the best in his field, the guy performed his own circumcision, he has been sporting a mustache since the age of 7, and have you heard of Mabhoub?”

(Mabhoub is Mahmoud Mabhoub, once a senior Hamas official and one of the founders of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigrade, the militant wing of Hamas, whose assassination in a Dubai hotel in 2010 was pinned on the Mossad, Israel’s secret service. Many aspects of the event were captured on CCTV, here.)

Our interviewee’s conscious has done the trick, no grapefruit juice for him; so he gestures the Israeli sign for a small glass of coffee, or in other words, קפה טורקי : “Turkish coffee”.

There is no point in a short piece like this to go into the global politics behind what is known as “Turkish” coffee, but lets just say that many countries in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East identify with this particular preparation that leaves the grounds in the cup. What does need to be said is that the watery brew Israelis call “Turkish” coffee couldn’t be farther from what Turks themselves drink.

The commercial ends with a bag of coffee emblazoned with “Turkish” in Hebrew and a final catchphrase: “Exactly what you need.”

“You got it,” our interviewee’s conscious declares, slapping him patronizingly in the back of the neck.

It is a commercial. It is meant to be comical, and it is targeting a male (if not chauvinist) viewer. I personally don’t know how an international Israeli company can find implying the Mossad’s role in an act of murder tasteful, especially when Israel denies its role in the event, but obviously this particular audience is comfortable with this association, and is happy to go along with the fantasy.

However, I want to hone in on the stereotype of Turks. After all, the product is labeled after a nationality.

In my eyes, the interviewee’s conscious makes a number of arguments which could lead me to assume that the correct “drink of choice” for the interview would be something other than coffee. Whiskey, perhaps, given his almost James Bondesque profile.

It is the mustache that gives it away.

The walrus-sized whiskers on this guy say it all. It is so cliched that the creators included a shot of him as a boy, angrily pointing his finger to the sky, a dark smear covering his upper lip.

Mustache’s are not popular in Israel, yet across the Middle East they are a cultural hit. Some politicians even fly to Turkey to receive facial hair implants, as different styles convey different methods of leadership. It is hard to find a Turkish figurehead without one.

So the commercial plays into every stereotype in the book, is this a bad thing? Not necessarily. Unlike the “Freedom Fries” incident in the United States, where France’s opposition to the invasion of Iraq prompted U.S. Representatives Bob Ney to change Congressional cafeteria menus from “French fries to Freedom Fries”, similar attempts to change the “Turkish” label on Strauss’ coffee brand to “something else” after the Mavi Marmara incident fell flat. Israelis do not have a cultural history of disrespecting Turks the way Americans have the French.

I am not saying that tomorrow there will be reconciliation between Israel and Turkey. It may still take several months, if not a year or two. But the grounds for reconciliation, at least on the Israeli side, are there. If this commercial is evidence of anything, it is that Israelis – on some level – crave something Turkey represents. That may just be enough to begin a dialogue…

Posted on by Gabriel in Israel, Turkey