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A 'Buycott' for Israel

December 2, 2010 By:
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Israeli flags in hand, supporters of the Jewish state filed into the Center City Trader Joe's store on Tuesday to buy Israeli products as part of a national counterattack to the global "Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions" movement. Locally, Philly BDS launched a campaign against two brands of hummus in October.
Miniature Israeli flags in hand, supporters of the Jewish state filtered into the Center City Trader Joe's at lunchtime on Nov. 30 on a mission to buy Israeli products as part of a national counterattack to the global "Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions" (BDS) movement.

Pro-Israel groups including StandWithUs and the America-Israel Chambers of Commerce last week declared Nov. 30 "Buy Israeli Goods Day" in response to rumors that anti-Israel groups affiliated with BDS had selected the same date for a national boycott.

That boycott never happened, at least not on a national scale or in Philadelphia. But the fact that pro-Israel groups were able to mobilize people to support Israeli products on such short notice sends a strong message that boycotters "can't win here," said Kenneth Bandler, spokesman for the American Jewish Committee, 15 of its 26 offices involved in what activists dubbed the "buycott."

"The more they protest, the more we'll shop for Israel," Bandler said.

In the past, BDS has lobbied stores including Trader Joe's and Costco to drop Israeli products. Locally, Philly BDS recently targeted Sabra and Tribe hummus, claiming that the corporate parents of those brands subsidize human rights abuses by supporting the Israeli Defense Force. Activists launched their campaign against the two brands in late October with a choreographed flash mob at the Fresh Grocer in University City.

More recently, this week the Princeton Committee on Palestine appealed to the university to pass a campus-wide referendum to sell alternative brands of the chickpea spread in its stores, which currently only carry Sabra, according to news reports.

With these events and the threat of more boycotts in the public eye, the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, AJC and other groups sent out hurried e-mails and Facebook messages urging participation in the Nov. 30 "buycott."

Ilana Krop Wilensik, director of the Philadelphia and South Jersey AJC office, estimated that about 35 people stopped by Trader Joe's over the lunch hour, most of them affiliated with the Israeli consulate, the Anti-Defamation League, the Zionist Organization of America or other pro-Israel groups.

"That's what they call voting with dollars," said Michael Steiman, 63, showing off a container of frozen herbs before leaving the store.

Within 20 minutes, the shoppers had purchased the last package of Israeli feta cheese and all but one lonely box of couscous. There wasn't much else to choose from, especially since Trader Joe's carries its own line of hummus, instead of big-name brands like Sabra.

"Everything is gone, so our job is done here," Wilensik said.

Supporting Israeli products is an ongoing endeavor. But will such a quiet show of solidarity be enough to counter the messages espoused by more vocal Palestinian rights groups?

Connie Smukler, 72, a longtime community leader and self-described political activist, shrugged.

"All I know is when Israel needs me, I come," she said. "I needed to be here."

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