Kenya's Justice Minister Mutula Kilonzo visited Israel a few weeks ago as a guest of Tel Aviv University's Law Faculty. At some point his hosts served him a cup of coffee ordered from a cafeteria operated by coffee chain Kakao. The minister looked at the cup, then at the napkin, and lost his appetite. He told his guests that he was offended by the image decorating them.
It turns out that Kilonzo was not the only one to be insulted. African diplomats stationed in Israel have complained about the logo to their counterparts at the Israeli Foreign Ministry. The Law Faculty's staff members and students have also complained about the picture of the dark-skinned woman on the café walls.
Dr. Daphna Hacker, a senior lecturer at the Law Faculty and the Women and Gender Studies Program at Tel Aviv University, decided to take action by filing an official complaint with the manager of the local Kakao branch, Avraham Asher, firmly demanding that the character be removed immediately.
"I recently received some complaints about a photo decorating the cafeteria's walls, cups, the napkins, plastic bags and other items distributed there. It's hard to believe that at the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century there is a need to explain why this picture is offensive, both in terms of gender and racism," Hacker wrote.
She added that "the picture of the dark-skinned and minimally clothed woman, sitting in a seducing position on a cup of coffee, inside a cup of coffee, or peeking from a pants' zipper is a blatant 'objectification' of the woman's body and a disgraceful expression of the stereotype of the black woman as having unrestrained sexual urges. The branch's location within the Law Faculty exposes the students and teachers to this insulting image against their will."
Hacker noted that "the Kenyan minister looked at the napkin with the picture and couldn't believe his eyes, while the faculty members were beside themselves with embarrassment."
She ended her letter with an implicit threat: "I ask that you inform me within seven days whether and how you plan to remove the offensive picture." A copy of the letter was sent to Prof. Hanoch Dagan, dean of the Law Faculty.
'Our Cookie isn't a sex symbol'
The Kakao chain, which was founded in 2004 and has 26 branches, said in response: "The drawing of Cookie, the Kakao chain's first lady, which is an integral part of the chain's logo, symbolizes our great appreciation for the image of the dark-skinned woman, who represents the culture of coffee and cocoa beans and their geographical origin.
"One must have a particularly distorted mind to turn our Cookie into a sex symbol or think that this artistic drawing contains any gender-related, sexual or racist offense. We are filled with appreciation for the image of every woman, and will always consider the feminine power as the power running our world."
Foreign ambassadors were at odds when asked whether they were insulted by the logo. Ghana's ambassador to Israel Henry Hanson-Hall, said, "I can understand why Kenya's justice minister was insulted. If Kakao wants to market itself there are more positive things to use than this picture. In general, I would like Africa and the Africans to have a positive image in Israel."
But a diplomat from a central African country claimed that "It’s basically a very young and cool picture. How can anyone call it offensive?"
Cameroon's Ambassador Henri Etoundi Essomba said he was unfamiliar the picture and asked to study the issue before responding.
Raz Shechnik contributed to this report
- Follow Ynetnews on Facebook