Meanwhile, the part of Ben Carson’s remarks that drew the most attention was his repeated mispronunciation of Hamas, the name of the Palestinian militant organization.
To many observers — and Internet users shortly thereafter — it sounded like he was saying “hummus.” And like a hearty plate of that mashed chickpea spread, the puns were simply too good to pass up.
Carson’s recurrent error was captured best in a Vine by CNN reporter Brenna Williams, who juxtaposed the presidential candidate’s utterances of “Hamas”/”hummus” with a fitting clip from the 2009 mockumentary “Brüno.”
Comedian Sacha Baron Cohen’s take on the words’ phonetic similarities comes through his alter-ego Brüno, a “gay Austrian fashionista with a Nazi streak” who tries to achieve worldwide fame by bringing peace to “Middle Earth” (the movie’s version of the Middle East).
In an attempt at mediating dialogue between Israel and Palestinians, Brüno brings together Yossi Alpher and Ghassan Khatib, an Israeli and a Palestinian political figure who jointly run an online magazine on Middle Eastern relations. Alpher and Khatib, who were paid to appear on camera, were not told that the exchange was meant to be comedic, but generally played along with Brüno’s absurd line of questioning.
“Why are you so anti-Hamas?” Brüno asks Alpher. “Isn’t pita bread the real enemy?”
“You think there is a relation between Hamas and hummus?” a wide-eyed Khatib interjects.
“Was the founder of Hamas a chef?” Brüno persists. “He had created the food and got lots of followers?”
At the RJC forum Thursday, Carson discussed the conflict between Hamas and Fatah, a rival Palestinian political faction. “Fatah and Hamas operate in a constant state of conflict,” he said. “Fatah rules the West Bank. Hamas rules the Gaza Strip.”
No one jumped in during Carson’s 30-minute address to tell him, as Alpher does Brüno, “You’re confusing Hamas with hummus, I think.” But plenty of commentators chimed in after the fact, including RJC board member and former Bush White House press secretary Lawrence Ari Fleischer:
Some saw the mispronunciation as another sign that Carson has a poor grasp on foreign policy, which has been recently called into question. In an interview on Fox News Sunday following the Paris attacks, Carson appeared unable to name specific allies that the United States could call on to form an international coalition against the Islamic State.
[Carson’s team hits back on New York Times report he’s struggling to understand foreign policy]
Carson’s campaign told CNN in October that the candidate did not have plans to appear at Thursday’s conference hosted (but not attended by) Sheldon Adelson, a business magnate and major Republican donor.
But the retired neurosurgeon’s campaign has given renewed attention to foreign policy since the Paris attacks made it a key issue for presidential candidates, even making a surprise visit to Syrian refugee camps in Jordan.
Is it possible that Carson’s “Hamas”/”hummus” mix-up was actually a subtle stand for peace? After all, the dish’s pleasing flavor is one thing that Israelis and Palestinians agree on.
Hummus Bar, a family-style restaurant in an Israeli village nicknamed the “Israeli Rivera,” famously invited Arabs and Jews to enjoy 50 percent off their hummus order in October if they shared a table.
“If there’s anything that can bring together these peoples,” restaurant manager Kobi Tzafrir told the Times of Israel, “it’s hummus.”
Or, as Alpher told Brüno, “We eat it, they eat it” — to which Khatib agreed with a shrug, “It’s vegetarian, it’s healthy. It’s beans.”
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