Ever since Conflict Kitchen unveiled a selection of Palestine-inspired dishes Oct. 6, the restaurant has faced criticism from Jewish organizations that have rebuked the Heinz Endowments for helping fund the restaurant. These critics have argued that the U.S. is not in conflict with Palestine. (The restaurant features a rotating menu inspired by cuisine form places the U.S. is currently engaged in conflict.)
Those criticisms have been included in two separate articles in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, both written by dining critic Melissa McCart. The latest story, which ran yesterday, included B’nai B’rith International's objections to Conflict Kitchen as a "deeply unsettling choice for a grant," as well as a statement from the Heinz Endowments distancing itself from Conflict Kitchen, but issuing blanket approval of artists who "perform edgy and provocative programming."
In a post that has gotten some traction online, Conflict Kitchen co-founder Jon Rubin objected to the P-G's coverage of the story, saying McCart "neglected to include any of Conflict Kitchen's answers" to interview questions — and did not include "the viewpoints of local Palestinians."
Reached by phone this afternoon, McCart says she offered Conflict Kitchen a chance to comment for the story Tuesday afternoon, roughly 24 hours before deadline. Rubin responded to questions McCart sent via email after the story had been filed late afternoon Wednesday. "It was too late," McCart says. "I appreciate that Mr. Rubin wants to be heard and that he's concerned about funds being rescinded. But I think the way he framed his voice not being heard was not honest."
On the same day the story ran, McCart posted Rubin's responses on the P-G's food blog.
"I respect Jon," McCart adds. "I wish there hadn't been such a fallout that seems pretty unnecessary."
For his part, Rubin confirmed that he preferred to be interviewed by email, and that he didn't have a chance to respond to McCart's questions until Wednesday afternoon because he was "working all day and we wanted to be very considered with what we said."
Still, Rubin says, he's concerned with the lack of attention to Palestinian voices in the controversy. "No one has asked local members of the Palestinian community how they feel about this," Rubin says. "That's an important point."
McCart declined to say why interviews with local Palestinians didn't make it into either article.
For now, Rubin says he's not concerned the controversy will jeopardize the restaurant's future. He says the $50,000 grant they received from the Heinz Endowments was largely to cover the cost of moving to Oakland and "95 percent of funding" comes from public support, including food sales.
"The public has approached us with incredible support and trust and open minds and curiosity," Rubin says. "No one has complained whatsoever at the restaurant and we're busier than we've ever been."