Daniel Lubetzky isn't sure what made him think he could solve the world's problems with condiments and coconut milk. But it began one night in 1993 when Lubetzky, then a recent Stanford law graduate in Tel Aviv on a fellowship, fell in love with the tang of a sun-dried tomato spread he found at the corner market.
After he'd cleaned out the store's stock, he tracked down Yoel Benesh, the Israeli former manufacturer, who, it turned out, had just gone out of business. Lubetzky made a proposition: If Benesh would use sun-dried tomatoes from Turkey instead of Italy, jars from Egypt rather than Portugal, and olives and oil from Palestinian olive trees, Lubetzky would market the spreads in the United States. The cooperative condiments would benefit both Arabs and Israelis, forcing them to trade together. The idea was to weave a profitable web of commerce between the two sides.
In March 1994, with $10,000 of his own cash and some help from his parents, Lubetzky formed PeaceWorks. Its first product: Moshe and Ali Sprates (as in spread and pate). Today it also markets an Indonesian line produced in a women-owned factory in Bali, bringing together Muslims, Buddhists, and Christians. And it sells coconut milk from a Sri Lankan operation that creates cooperation between the warring Sinhalese and Tamils. Lubetzky describes his company as "not-only-for-profit" — that is, it makes money, but it also serves a mission.
PeaceWorks products are now sold in 5,000 U.S. stores. But it isn't an unalloyed success. The Middle East has grown more violent and polarized, and the four years of violence that marked the second intifada, or Palestinian uprising, have shaken the tomato-spread partnership. There are times when Lubetzky, the 36-year-old Mexican-born son of a Holocaust survivor, feels that PeaceWorks hasn't had the dramatic impact he once expected.
But he finds comfort in lesser triumphs. "At the company, micro, personal level, this works," Lubetzky says. That means Benesh working with an Arab-Israeli and a Palestinian. It means the 1,000-plus Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Buddhists involved in that venture. "I never think this is a waste of time," he says. "There are times when I wonder if it will ultimately help change the situation. But I can't live my life accepting defeat."
A version of this article appeared in the November 2004 issue of Fast Company magazine.