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I Resigned From World Central Kitchen

Above photo: World Central Kitchen staff provide food in Gaza, January 2024. World Central Kitchen.

Because It Refused To Tell The Truth About The Israeli Genocide In Gaza.

For months World Central Kitchen leadership censored material coming out of its Gaza operation and refused to honor staff concerns about our work there. They are finally taking a stand after personnel were killed, but it is much too late.

At the time I resigned in early March, I was the only staff member of Palestinian descent at World Central Kitchen (WCK).1 I resigned in protest of extensive, unexplained censorship regarding Gaza at the organization. WCK leadership is taking a stand six months too late, only after 7 of its personnel were killed.

World Central Kitchen is a food relief NGO, founded by celebrity chef José Andrés in response to 2010’s disastrous earthquake in Haiti. While the vast majority of the organization’s work is in response to natural disasters, WCK had made exceptions, including feeding the National Guard and law enforcement during the January 6 insurrection, and in 2022 activated wholesale in Ukraine.

On December 7 of last year, I sent this letter to World Central Kitchen’s executive team, along with a request to discuss its points in an open conversation mediated by an ombudsman, a resource hired by the organization in the wake of last year’s sexual harassment scandal. The letter called for WCK to join other regionally active NGOs in calling for a ceasefire and condemning Israel’s blockade, conform its language in coverage of Gaza to the standard set by its coverage of Ukraine, and an immediate cessation in meal service in Israel. It garnered 43 signatures from WCK staff, contractors, and Chef Corps volunteers at a time when the organization’s largest Slack channel had 101 employees. The entire WCK executive team declined the meeting, and failed to respond when the ombudsman reached out to them. WCK continued to actively serve meals in Israel until the second day of the ICJ genocide hearing in January.

The unique character of WCK’s relief response to October 7 first revealed itself on October 11, 2023, when the organization’s Communications team received the following statement from newly hired Chief Communications Officer Linda Roth, signed by CEO Erin Gore, with instructions to post it without the Communication team’s input, breaking precedent. The statement opened:

“Dear Supporters and Friends of World Central Kitchen,

I am writing to address a matter of great importance regarding our organization’s mission and the horrific terrorist act orchestrated by the militant group Hamas against Israel.”

Four days into Israel’s offensive, after Israeli officials had explicitly stated their intentions to cut off water and aid, and treat all Gazans as guilty, WCK’s statement made no mention of the enclave’s blockade or the climbing civilian death toll. In a heated Communications meeting called to address this, Roth defended the statement from the protest of almost the entire team, claiming taking down the post was a “fireable offense,” justifying the statement with “No one supports terrorism, right?,” and citing now debunked claims widely circulated in the days following October 7. When it was clear the team wouldn’t stand down, the statement was altered to remove the sentence shared above.

Three days later, José Andrés posted this video to WCK’s Instagram, still making reference only to the October 7 attack, with no mention of the climbing Palestinian death toll or blockades. As covered in Electronic Intifada and on social media, Andrés requested a Spanish minister be removed over her protest of Israeli tactics, while WCK continued to work closely with the IDF over the course of the relief response. The initial statement, and Andrés’s video, were decisions made by leadership against the concerns of WCK personnel.

Much of the work in a genocide is not pulling the trigger, but instead minimizing and denying that a genocide is going on. Genocide is a phenomenon of gradual boundary pushing. Each increment must be accepted by the parties with agency for the next to be reached. Under the direction of CEO Erin Gore, Linda Roth, and “Chief Feeding Officer” José Andrés, World Central Kitchen recklessly endangered its personnel, selfishly exploited the situation for its own benefit, and actively participated in the normalization of an ongoing genocide.

As Assistant Video Editor, I cataloged all of the copious footage coming in from Gaza. WCK had daily media uploads coming in from two Palestinian videographers for weeks early on in the activation. When combined with the phone footage from the ground team, it’s plausible WCK has more footage of post-October 7 Gaza than any other aid organization. However, the use of this footage, as well as external communications regarding the response, were extremely restricted. While it is unclear where along the chain of command these restrictions, almost always unexplained, originated, they were demanded of me by Linda Roth.

These restrictions included the removal of key context from videos. One video, highlighting WCK’s trucks entering Gaza via the Rafah crossing, had the story of a driver living out of his truck removed. The published video had no remaining detail of the Kafkaesque process of waiting for days or weeks to enter, and then starting the process again. In another instance, a video of a WCK kitchen caught in an IDF bombing was put on hold entirely. It appears this incident, as well as the fact that WCK personnel were aboard a UN convoy that was bombed, have not been mentioned anywhere externally. I resigned in early March following Roth’s time-dependent demand to share a version of a video that I was not comfortable with – it omitted references to previous Palestinian displacements, the overcrowding of Rafah, the commonality of death in Gaza, a reference to Palestinian death as a “crime,” and footage of the North.

Prior to her hiring at WCK, Roth’s longest continual work experience was managing former hasbarist and pro-Israel anchor Wolf Blitzer for a large chunk of her 25 years at CNN. Well into the current offensive she openly spoke in office about embedding with the IDF in Lebanon and viewing an Israeli general she met there as a personal hero. In a Slack post, she referenced “Hamas folks in the air conditioned tunnels with TV and internet,” and shared a Tweet about Israeli allegations of UNRWA personnel involvement in the October 7 attack with no relevant context. Similar Slack posts addressing Gaza (including one honoring an employee of WCK partner organization MECA who had been killed in an airstrike) were quietly deleted by an admin. In an organizational-wide meeting, Roth declared that WCK had gotten in “way more than the UN,” claiming 62% of all food into Gaza since October 7, later citing COGAT data. This assertion was already impossible, seeing that UN organizations had brought in many times the aid of all NGOs combined. The gap has since grown.

In outward-facing materials, every reference to the Gaza offensive as a “siege” was changed to “conflict.” Roth requested that a reference to the blockades of Gaza be removed from a post collectively written by the Communications team, asking, “What blockades?” Most disturbingly, two employees witnessed Roth remove every use of “Palestinian” in a blog post directly after Palestinian Chef Corps members emphasized to her the importance of referring to Gazans as “Palestinians.”2

Again, it is unclear where in the chain of command these actions originated, but the refusal of the entire executive team to discuss the requests raised on December 7 paints a clear picture. Instead of using its standing to influence the parameters of acceptability, WCK leadership elected to euphemize the situation, and repeatedly withhold footage and stories demonstrating the severity of the reality in Gaza. Per the COGAT data, these sanitization tactics did not make WCK more effective than organizations that have taken a much stronger stance earlier on.

The lesson here is simple: doing one’s part to push for conditions under which people can be fed should be more important than being the one to feed them.

WCK’s double standards regarding its work in Palestine become very clear when compared to its work in Ukraine.

The way in which WCK writes stories and talks about its work in Ukraine suggests this isn’t principled humanitarian neutrality. In three separate videos, the NGO has highlighted its initiative in rural Ukraine, titled “Seeds of Victory.” It refers to its Ukrainian employees and volunteers as “Food Fighters,” positioning them as part of the war effort. Gaza has had a much higher rate of civilian, especially child, casualties. Andrés is Co-Chair of Biden’s Council on Sports, Fitness, & Nutrition, a member of the State Department’s American Culinary Corps, and has warmly hosted Antony Blinken on his podcast. He has had no issue asserting that Russia was using starvation as a weapon in Ukraine, but has never publicly stated a similar stance on Israel’s policies in Palestine. Until the highly publicized slaughter of its employees forced it to do otherwise, WCK has been towing the Biden admin line regarding Gaza. Despite ridiculous assertions to the contrary, WCK does take political stances, seemingly in line with the privately expressed views of its leadership.

Save the possibility of genuine incompetence, the WCK leadership’s decisions were not made to maintain neutrality, did not increase effectiveness, and, as April 1 demonstrated, did not protect personnel. The leadership’s failure to honestly portray the dire reality in Gaza, and lack of an attempt to influence the genocide in Gaza via its status and close ties with the Biden administration, means that they bear responsibility for its outcomes. Let no one say they did everything they could.

Mine was only one experience. When I resigned, there was a palpable, widespread atmosphere of disappointment and anger among employees, stemming from issues that began long before I signed on. I am calling on current and former World Central Kitchen employees, contractors, and volunteers to publicly share their stories and force accountability and change.

Notes

1. While WCK hired many Palestinian contractors in Gaza and Egypt, I was the only Palestinian with staff status following the departure of one longtime employee.

2. A co-worker finally convinced Roth to permit one use of the word “Palestinians” so long as it also included “and anyone else in need.”

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