Pro-Israel consumers are invited to hit the stores on Wednesday, March 30, to shop “BIG,” which is an acronym for “Buy Israeli Goods.” Knowing what to buy is easy; Israel’s supporters can simply follow the list of products and companies Israel’s enemies would like to see targeted by a boycott.
“We are telling people to go to their local stores, request the exact Israeli products being targeted, and buy them out. Let store managers know they should keep Israeli products well stocked on the shelves,” said Roz Rothstein, co-founder and national director of Stand with Us, which, together with the American-Israel Chamber of Congress, is spearheading the BIG project.
The date is no accident. March 30th was selected as the “Global Day of Action” by the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, a far-left, often antisemitic international initiative that seeks to undermine support for Israel.
Ask for Products
The BDS National Committee is asking its supporters to protest outside stores that stock Israeli products and speak out for academic and cultural boycotts of Israeli individuals and institutions.
“Boycotters have been energetically lobbying stores across North America to drop Israeli products, from local co-ops to Costco and Trader Joe’s,” said Ms. Rothstein.
To counter their efforts, Stand with Us is calling on schools, colleges, synagogues, community organizations, and individuals to use March 30 to shop at stores and ask specifically for Israeli products.
“Whenever a boycott is called, we must respond by purchasing the very Israeli goods that are being targeted,” said Ms. Rothstein.
While Purim is before BIG day, she said, those who want to get a jump start on the initiative should certainly start while preparing for the holiday. Passover, which starts on April 18, could easily be a goal for March 30 shoppers.
Photos and Videos
Stand with Us has made knowing where to shop and what to look for a simply matter of visiting www.BuyIsraelGoods.org. The website includes not only a locator so that participants can find local stores that carry Israeli products, it also has suggestions ranging from books and gifts to clothing for the entire family and even furnishings.
BIG participants who go in groups are being asked to take photographs and videos of themselves purchasing Israeli products. Videos can be placed on YouTube, while photos and links can be emailed to email@example.com.
“Make the photos and videos positive, fun, and/or funny,” suggested Ms. Rothstein.
According to Ms. Rothstein, the mission of Stand with Us, which has 12 offices and chapters around the world, is to “bring peace to the Middle East by education about Israel and challenging misinformation that surrounds the conflict in that region.”
The group’s “BIG” initiative covers markets in which more than 75 percent of the Jewish population in the US resides.
But in the US, Israel’s supporters are hardly limited to Jews. According to a Rasmussen poll taken at the end of February, despite the possible turn towards democracy in the Arab world, most Americans want to end US foreign aid to all Arab nations. But more than half of Americans favor foreign aid to the US’s number-one recipient, Israel.
Only 20 percent of American adults think the US should continue providing foreign aid to Arab countries in the Middle East. A full 58 percent say that aid should come to an end, while 21 percent are not sure.
On the other hand, 51 percent of Americans favor continued aid to Israel; 32 percent oppose it; and 17 percent are unsure.
In January, a similar campaign, calling itself “Buy-cott” was successful in Montreal, Canada, when an Iranian-born Quebec legislator, Amir Khadir, led a protest against the Le Marcheur shoe store, because it sells BeautiFeel shoes, produced in a factory outside Tel Aviv.
The store’s owner, Yves Archambault, is not Jewish, but he insisted on the right to select his own inventory.
“There is no one who will tell me what I will sell in my store,” said Mr. Archambault.
Montreal, which boasts large Jewish and Arab communities, has recently seen antisemitic vandalism at four synagogues and a Jewish school.
When the picketing outside the Le Marcheur storefront by Mr. Khadir and his supporters became uncomfortable, Mr. Archambault reached out to the Quebec legislature, prompting legislators from across the political spectrum to purchase shoes in what was called a “buy-cott” of the store.
Marlene Jennings, for example, made a special trip to the store and walked out with a pair made in Israel which she described as “gorgeous.” Despite calls by Mr. Khadir to declare St. Denis St, on which Le Marcheur is located, “Israel Apartheid-Free Zone,” Ms. Jennings was one of 150 politicians and others who crowded into the store to buy shoes.
“Israel is a democracy. The shoes that are being sold are being produced legally in Israel, imported into Canada legally, and being sold at Le Marcheur legally,” she said.
While most of Quebec’s media criticized Mr. Khadir and the attempted boycott, some Montreal residents saw it as a boon for Israel.
“I believe Amir Khadir and his friends are being paid by the Israeli consulate to promote Israeli products,” Nicole Allio wrote to the Montreal Gazette. “Every time there is a demonstration against Israeli products, they sell out fast and shop owners rejoice.”
She pointed out that, in December, a store selling Ahava products—a frequent BDS target—sold out all its products in two days. The headquarters for Ahava cosmetics and beauty supplies is a kibbutz near the Dead Sea.
“Now Montreal is aware that BeautiFeel shoes are both comfortable and fashionable, thanks to a promotion campaign worth more than $1 million,” she said.
In Toronto, Hudson’s Bay Company had a similar experience when BDS tried to convince the store to stop stocking Ahava. The store issued a special announcement specifying that it would never succumb to political pressure to stop selling products.
The store’s statement was seen as resounding and somewhat embarrassing defeat for the BDS movement.
The “buy-cott” in Canada continued, resulting in empty shelves in many stores after buyers cleaned them out, purchasing wine, snacks, cosmetics, and hundreds of other Israeli-made products.
It is unclear if Jews throughout the world will follow this lead, but in January, in France, when it was announced that the BDS movement had scheduled a meeting at the prestigious Ecole normale superieure in Paris, the school’s administration cancelled it. According to some reports, the cancellation was at the behest of prominent French-Jewish intellectuals, Bernard-Henri Levy and Alain Finkielkraut.
Mr. Levy denied ever having “directly or indirectly pressured anyone to cancel a meeting in support of the partisans of the boycott of Israel.” In fact, he said, he would have been “more than happy” to debate BDS, because, he said, “we are faced here with a skillfully orchestrated but calumnious, bellicose, anti-democratic, and, in a word, despicable campaign.”
“One boycotts totalitarian regimes, not democracies,” he said, explaining that some boycotts are reasonable, such as against Sudan, “guilty of the extermination of part of the population of Darfur;” China, “guilty of massive violations of human rights in Tibet;” Iran, “a country whose leaders have become deaf to the language of common sense and compromise,” and “those Arab regimes whose citizens’ freedom of expression is forbidden and punished, if necessary, with blood.”
“One does not boycott the only society in the Middle East where Arabs read a free press, demonstrate when they wish to do so, send representatives to parliament, and enjoy their rights as citizens. Regardless of what one thinks of the policies of its government, one does not boycott the only country in the region, and beyond the region, where voters have the power to sanction, modify, and reverse the position of said government,” he said.
He insisted that regardless of what BDS’s promoters and “useful idiots” say, “the only real, accepted, hackneyed goal of this boycott campaign is to delegitimize Israel as such.”
Their goal, he said, is “not two states, but two Palestines.”
He also disparaged as “deplorable and indisputable” the “rather shady initiatives whose purpose is to mark Jewish—sorry, Israeli—merchandise with supposedly derogatory stickers intended for the attention of the vigilant French consumer.”
“Presenting the promoters of this discourse of hatred as victims speaks volumes of the current state of confusion—intellectual and moral—of a Western world one would have hoped had been cured of its worst criminal past,” he said.
BDS in Israel
In Israel, other tactics are being used to combat the BDS campaign, which officials say has infected many sectors of the community.
In early January, the Palestinian Authority announced it was building a new city, to be named Rawabi, but would entertain bids from Israeli companies only if they commit not to purchase Jewish goods made in Judea, Samaria, the Golan, or eastern Jerusalem. Initially, Army Radio reported that as many as 20 companies had signed contracts with the PA, but the names of the companies were not released, presumably for fear of retribution from mainstream, and nationalist Israeli public opinion and purchasing power.
Finally, a few names appeared, among them Taldor Cables from Kibbutz Ein Dor, between Afula and the Sea of Galilee, and Ytong, a licensee of the Itung Company of Germany, which manufactures insulated building blocks, but it was unclear if either had signed the controversial clause.
Ytong spokesman, Yehuda Swizer, said his company “refuses to participate in any boycott of any Israeli product.”
Calling the boycott “ugly,” Mr. Swizer said it was up to the lawyers if his refusal to participate would nullify the contract with the PA. “All I can tell you is that we will have no part in any boycott,” he said.
Ytong CEO Sasson Har-Sinai agreed, explaining that the firm is “a deep-rooted Israel company that is a full partner is building the Land of Israel—in all parts of the Land of Israel.”
Disassociating Ytong from “any hint of a boycott” of Israeli goods, he said the company had “fallen prey to a sordid manipulation by interested parties who are motivated by foreign interests that linked our name to boycotts of Israeli produce.”
He said that when Ytong applied to supply Rawabi, he was asked where Ytong’s installations were located. He replied: Ashkelon and Pardes Hana.
“We did not realize that this innocent answer would end up tying our name to an ugly boycott of goods make in the settlements,” said Mr. Har-Sinai.
Ytong’s building blocks are widely used in Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.
At Taldor, the official response was “no comment,” but the spokesman added that Taldor is “part-owner of a factory located in the Golan Heights.”
Breaking the Treaty
Likud MK Carmel Shama HaCohen, who chairs the Knesset Economics Committee, said the government would insist that the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria, which governs the area and has some supervision over the construction of Rawabi, release the names of the companies that caved to the demanded boycott.
“Every company that signs a political contract of that nature must know it will pay a price out of its own pocket,” said National Union MK Aryeh Eldad. “The US put an end to the boycott on Israel by passing a law that whoever boycotts Israel will not be able to sign contracts with the US government—and that’s what Israel must do now as well.”
Israel’s Minister of National Infrastructure Uzi Landau said in light of the PA’s call to boycott Israel, the economic treaties between Israel and the PA should be reconsidered. The PA boycott is in violation of the Protocol on Economic Relations between the Israeli Government and the Palestinians, part of the Oslo Accords.
According to Mr. Landau, Israel continues to abide by agreements calling for trade without borders between the Jewish state and the PA, giving PA merchants access to Israeli markets, allowing PA Arabs to work in Israel, and promoting initiatives to boost the PA’s economy, despite the PA’s violation of the same agreements.
Israel also sends water, electricity, and gas to Gaza, despite Hamas’s takeover of the region. According to Mr. Landau, Israel does this out of “fear of the political backlash the state could face for violating the Accords.”
He said he will appeal the government’s recent decision to issue an additional 5,000 work permits for PA Arabs. According to Mr. Landau, 11 percent of employed PA Arabs currently work for Israelis.
“Not only are we not insisting on separation between us, we are turning the other cheek and putting up with boycotts,” he said.
However, he said, companies that acquiesce to the PA’s demand to boycott areas of Israel will find themselves cut off by the National Infrastructure Ministry.
He slapped sanctions against such firms and copies of the new directive were sent to Israel’s national water, electric, and natural gas authorities. Nearly half of all MKs, including Minister of Science Daniel Hershkowitz, have signed a petition calling for sanctions against firms agreeing to the PA boycott.
“It is utterly unacceptable for the Ministry of National Infrastructures to enter into any business contract with any company carrying out any work for the city of Rawabi that, for the purposes of their work there, undertook not to buy products from Israeli companies in the areas of Judea and Samaria,” said Mr. Landau.
Also, in January, a bill was proposed in the Knesset giving the government new powers to bar “boycott supporters and other haters of Israel” from entering the Jewish state.
If this bill were to pass, the Interior Ministry would be empowered to bar hostile activists, defined as anyone who works to boycott Israel, tries to place Israeli leaders on international trial for activities undertaken in the line of duty, or denies the Holocaust.
According to Likud MK Yariv Levin, who is working on the proposed bill with the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel, the suggested legislation would apply to anyone who “incites against the country, carries out verbal or physical attacks, organizes hostile activities, or tries to interfere with foreign diplomatic and trade relations.”
Nachi Eyal of the Legal Forum agreed, pointing out that those who act against Israeli citizens often call themselves “peace activists” or “human rights activists.”
“Right now, they are free to travel in the country without any restrictions,” said Mr. Eyal.
While most observers do not expect Mr. Levin’s bill to move forward, the Knesset has already passed legislation to investigate the activities and funding of Israeli non-profit political organizations.
According to supporters of the new law, its purpose is to prevent money-laundering and infiltration of organizations by international anti-Israel forces, especially those linked to terrorism.
“The law protects Israeli citizens from negative influence of interests that are opposed to Israel’s national good,” said the bill’s sponsor Likud MK Ze’ev Elkin.
Two committees, one chaired by Likud MK Danny Danon and the other by Israel Our Home MK Fania Kirshenbaum, were originally established to investigate radical far-left organizations, but, as a compromise with the leftists, have been changed to include all political groups, including nationalists. Mr. Danon’s committee will also look into the foreign funding of Arab land purchases.
Left-wing groups, many of which have long been suspected of receiving funds from the European Union and/or Arab countries, are actively opposed to the committees, whose establishment was supported by an overwhelming majority in the Knesset.
According Ms. Kirshenbaum, who initiated the inquiry, the left-wing groups’ efforts hamper Israel’s right to defend itself.
“The Knesset must get to the bottom of the issue,” she said.
Despite the fact that right-wing groups will undergo the same scrutiny, MKs from the far-left Meretz Party insist that the initiative is “illegal.”
“The extreme right is trying to silence legitimate criticism,” said Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz.
But support for the initiative comes from Israel’s center as well. Kadima MK Otniel Shneller likened the committees that will research organizations’ funding to “a democratic and Zionist fence against the use of human-rights claims at the expense of Israeli patriotism.”
“These organizations apparently know why they are hiding the sources of their funding. I don’t know any Western democratic country in the world that would agree to have a foreign country invest hundreds of millions of dollars in its territory in order to undermine its values and create a new country,” he said.
National Union MK Michael Ben-Ari called the left-wing groups “traitors” who want “no less than to liquidate the Jewish state.”
“An IDF general flies to England and can’t get off the plane, because the information provided by these organizations leads the British to issue a warrant for his arrest. We see how Peace Now has beautiful buildings and cars for low-level clerks. Who pays for all this? The enemies of Israel pay for this,” he said. “We have to find out about their funding and hit them where it hurts—in their pockets. We must pursue them in all legal ways, and get the Attorney General and Prosecutor to investigate them.”
The groups and organizations expected to be investigated include Adallah, a leading New Israel Fund grantee; Association for Civil Rights in Israel, which also receives funds from the New Israel Fund; Ataja, an umbrella group of Arab organizations whose former head, Amir Mahoul, recently admitted to charges of espionage; B’tselem, which reports on IDF and government activity in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza; The Center for the Defense of the Individual (Hamoked); Doctors for Human Rights in Israel; Gisha; Human Rights Watch; New Profile, a self-described feminist pacifist group that encourages young people to avoid service in the army; Peace Now; The Public Committee against Torture in Israel; and Yesh Din.
Other groups that may be called include Breaking the Silence, which encourages IDF soldiers to speak to foreign groups to condemn the Israeli army; Machsom Watch; The Israeli Committee against Home Demolitions, which argues for Palestinians but not for Jews; and the Center for Alternative Information.
Adallah, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Doctors for Human Rights in Israel, Gisha, and Hamoked signed a letter to the Goldstone Commission accusing the IDF of targeting civilians, mosques, and schools in Gaza during the Cast Lead incursion.
“The leftists seem afraid and they must have a reason for fearing this committee,” said Mr. Danon, who said his committee will “try to find out who are the ones who arrange the riots at the Bil’in checkpoint, who funded the legal motions in the matter of Highway 443, and who fund the groups that roam the Galilee and purchase private lands with Saudi money.”
In the past few months, less than honest actions undertaken by some left-wing groups have provoked ire even in the predominantly left-wing Israeli media.
In January, an Arab from Jerusalem was charged with using photographs taken in 2006 to falsely accuse three Israeli police officers of beating him in 2008. In court, he testified that B’tselem and Hamoked assisted him, ensured his complaint received media coverage, and pressured Israeli officials to move the case forward.
The attorney representing the police showed that the injuries the Arab said he had suffered were apparent on a disk taken two and half years earlier.
Problems for B’tselem and Hamoked worsened when Ma’ariv reported that they and 11 other Israeli leftist groups receive funds from Arab pro-terror organizations. The report concerns a study conducted by the grassroots Israeli-nationalist group, Im Tirtzu, which tied the Israeli left-wing organizations to a Ramallah-based fund, the National Development Center. The NDC is closely linked to a fund called the Welfare Association (WA), which, in turn, receives money from the Islamic Investment Bank, Arab countries hostile to Israel, and the Al Aqsa Fund. In 2007, Al Aqsa, which also gives money to relatives of suicide bombers who killed Jews, gave the WA $797,000.
According to Im Tirtzu, by receiving funding from these sources, the left-wing Israeli groups undertake to disparage Israel through propaganda and “lawfare,” the term used for the abuse of law and legal systems for strategic political or military ends.
According to the report, in 2008-2009, the NDC gave the 13 left-wing Israeli groups about $2 million. Hamoked received $450,000 and B’tselem received $400,000.
The NDC, which was founded in 2006, is officially funded by the governments of Switzerland, Sweden, Holland, and Denmark. Its website says its assets, systems, and founding team came from the WA in Ramallah. According to Im Tirtzu, the WA grants aid to recipients who commit to “monitoring human rights abuses by the ‘Israeli Occupation Force’” and conducting a propaganda and legal struggle against the “occupation” of Judea and Samaria.
Neither B’tselem nor Hamoked denied the report in Ma’ariv. They justified the funding by concentrating on the European support. B’tselem called NDC a “body for transferring money” from the European governments.
“Four European nations that are friendly to Israel chose to give money to Hamoked through a pipeline knows as NDC. Any other presentation of this simple fact is an underhanded attempt to depict the group in a bad light,” said Dalia Kirstein Hamoked’s director.
Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman noted that, one day after Operation Cast Lead began, the New Israel Fund sent out a letter calling to end the operation.
“When you look at all these facts, you ask: Why didn’t they protest Gilad Shalit’s situation even once? It is obvious that these groups have no connection to human rights,” said Mr. Lieberman.
No Right-Wing Concerns
Although nationalist groups, too, will come under scrutiny from the new committees, they have not expressed the same concern as the left-wing organizations. According to Im Tirtzu, this is because “we are not funded by foreign governments or international funds.”
Some leftist groups say that is untrue, insisting that Im Tirtzu, for example, has received money from Evangelical Pastor John Hagee and Christians United for Israel, which, the leftists say, can be construed as receiving funding from the US.
Looking to Poland
Last month, a group of left-wing academicians seemed to prove the point of those who say the investigations cannot start soon enough. Just as Polish officials were about to come to Israel on a planned two-day visit, a group led by Prof Rachel Giora of Tel Aviv University, issued a letter demanding that Poland, which is about to assume the presidency of the European Union, take action against Israel for the Jewish state’s “crimes of occupation.”
The academicians demanded that Poland cancel a cooperation agreement with Israel to produce the Spike missile, which the academicians claimed Israel directs against civilians. The academicians called on Poland to promote an “arms embargo” on Israel on behalf of the EU; send independent observers to monitor what they termed “the human rights violations perpetrated by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem;” and disallow the activities of Israeli companies that operate in Judea and Samaria, such as the Egged bus line and Eden mineral water, which has operations in Poland as well.
Recognizing the ammunition they were handing to the MKs waiting to investigate groups like theirs, the academicians demanded that the Poles “begin to protest against the wave of racist legislation that was recently adopted by the Knesset,” a reference to the parliamentary inquiry into the funding sources of political groups.
In response, Kadima’s Mr. Shneller addressed a letter to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, asking him to investigate the letter’s signatories. “As a citizen who sees great importance in the right to free speech, I’m afraid that the legal system sets no clear boundaries which clarify how far one may go before harming the interests of the State of Israel,” he said.
Recognizing that Ms. Giora, whose salary as a professor is covered by Israeli taxpayers, was essentially calling for a boycott of Egged and Eden, Im Tirtzu requested the Attorney General to open a criminal investigation against her. The group demanded that Tel Aviv University fire her.
In the past, Ms. Giora has participated in groups demanding that performers boycott Israeli venues. She is usually unsuccessful, just as she was last month, when she demanded that British novelist Ian McEwan refuse to accept the Jerusalem Prize at the 25th annual Jerusalem International Book Fair.
Accepting what he called “a highly distinguished award,” Mr. McEwan said he was “honored to join the backlist of writers who are previous winners.”
British Writers in Support of Palestine urged Mr. McEwan to reconsider, telling him that the book fair is organized by the municipality, which the writers called “a key institution of the Israeli state and a major instrument in the illegal colonization of East Jerusalem” the general term BDS groups use for Jewish neighborhoods in southern, northern, and eastern Jerusalem where some 25,000 Jews live.
Mr. McEwan defended his right to receive the prize, noting that literature can serve as a bridge between people.
The academicians also struck out with Poland. During Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s trip to Israel, a rocket fired by terrorists in Gaza hit a house in Beersheba in the Negev. Horrified, Mr. Tusk told reporters, “Poland is not prepared to allow anyone to deny the existence of Israel. Poland will not let these things happen.”
At a joint press conference, he told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “You have a real friend in Europe.”
In Jerusalem, Messrs Tusk and Netanyahu signed a joint declaration saying that denial of the Holocaust and calls to destroy the state of Israel are absolutely unacceptable.
The declaration calls for strengthening cooperation between Israel and Poland on strategic affairs, the economy, defense, and academic research.
Despite some setbacks, no one expects BDS to disappear, which is why, in the US, Zionist Organization of America president Morton Klein supports the Knesset’s plan to investigate BDS’s proponents. Mr. Klein pointed to two polls last year indicating that a majority of Israelis found Peace Now’s activities damaging to their country.
“Clearly the Israeli public believes they are serving something other than the health and vibrancy of Israeli society and institutions,” said Mr. Klein, who applauded the Israeli government for taking steps to investigate and “shine light on these groups’ funding and connections.”
The new Israeli Ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, agreed. At the Herzliya Conference last month, as part of a panel entitled “On Criticism and Prejudice: The Arab-Israeli Conflict and the Assault on Israel’s Legitimacy,” Mr. Prosor said efforts should be made against “hardcore delegitimizers.”
“It’s important to out them, name them, and shame them so that respectable organizations don’t coordinate with them. Our adversaries are crossing the red lines all the time, and we have to call it, because, if we don’t, we risk losing what we really stand for,” he said.
Characterizing the current situation as “a battlefield,” he called for Israelis and their supporters to work together to “target the people who are trying to delegitimize us and demonize us.”
“This has become an integral part of Israel’s national security,” he said.
This is also the central theme of a new book, Boycotting Peace, by Fred Taub, founder of Boycott Watch and DivestmentWatch. According to Mr. Taub, the “divest-from Israel campaign is about destroying Israel, not creating peace.”
“It is an effort to export the official Arab foreign policy to weaken and eventually bankrupt Israel,” he said.
The book connects the dots, showing the direct connection between the BDS campaign and the PA’s rejection of an independent state for themselves as well as the UN Goldstone Commission.