Boycott backfire

Profits of banned Israeli stores in London have increased as many now shop there in solidarity.

By RICHARD MILLET
May 30, 2010 05:35
4 minute read.
Apartheid

Twisted version of Israel flag, Apartheid flag 311. (photo credit: Richard Millett)

About 40 anti-Israel protesters turn up every other Saturday without fail at midday for a noisy two-hour demonstration outside Ahava’s London store. They chant “Dead Sea mud, Palestinian blood” incessantly and call on shoppers to boycott Ahava.

They display their twisted version of the Israeli flag: The Star of David is replaced by the word “apartheid.” The blue ribbons are now barbed wire, and the white background is spattered with dashes of red to signify blood.

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The aims of the protesters are both to force the store into closure and to demonize Israel to passers-by. They hand out leaflets sponsored by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, International Solidarity Movement and Boycott Israeli Goods.

Ahava isn’t, of course, the only legitimate trading organization that feels the wrath of the protesters. British supermarkets are regularly invaded by organized protests. The protesters dump Israeli produce into shopping carts and take them to the customer service counter for a sit-down demonstration and anti-Israel speeches.

WAR ON WANT, a registered charity that receives large donations from BBC’s Comic Relief, conducted such an invasion recently at a Waitrose in central London. On the pretext of demonstrating against Waitrose selling settlement produce protesters wearing “Free Palestine/Boycott Israeli Goods” T-shirts unceremoniously dumped all of the Israeli fruit into carts. Then WOW’s executive director, John Hilary, delivered a loud anti-Israel tirade.

The pre-invasion briefing took place in WOW’s offices. I should know as I was there. I tried to alert Waitrose, but the invasion proceeded and Waitrose couldn’t disperse the protesters until the police were called. You can view WOW’s video of the protest at www.waronwant.org.

Back to Ahava. Its “crime”? According to the protesters’ leaflets, “Many Ahava products are produced in the illegal Israeli settlement of Mitzpe Shalom, situated in the occupied Palestinian territory of the West Bank, near the Dead Sea.”

It is common parlance to term the settlements “illegal.” Disputed, maybe, controversial, for sure, but illegal? The settlements are legitimate according to UN Security Council Resolution 242, the “land-for-peace” resolution.

And when you chat with the protesters, you realize quickly that, just as with WOW in Waitrose, the protests aren’t about the settlements at all; they are about Israel itself. The protesters talk of the “ethnic cleansing” of 750,000 Arabs in 1948, the Gaza “siege” and the “miserable existence” of the 1.2 million Arab Israelis.

But there was no “ethnic cleansing” in 1948. According to Benny Morris, whatever took place was purely down to conditions of war.

As for the “siege,” which is also conducted by Egypt, most Israelis and Diaspora Jews feel uncomfortable about this but know the deadly consequences of allowing Hamas to appropriate material meant for innocent Gazans. Still, all necessities and aid are allowed into Gaza.

And as for Arab Israelis, Israel could do more to alleviate some of the poorer conditions but many live good lives, far better than they would under an Arab, including a Palestinian, government.

UNTIL RECENTLY the manager of the Ahava store wasn’t too concerned by the protests. At the first, demonstrators stormed the shop and handcuffed themselves inside as frightened Ahava staff looked on. Now there is a heavy police presence outside and a security guard at the shop entrance during the protests. Despite this, profits have actually increased as many people now shop there in solidarity.

The protesters have tried to sue Ahava for mislabeling, but to no avail so far. Now they have found their most effective weapon: noise.

While Ahava does very well, not so the adjoining shops and restaurants. The manager of a neighboring women’s shoe shop told me that potential shoppers don’t even look in his windows as their heads are turned toward the raucous demonstration instead. So now there is the very real possibility of some adjacent shop owners and residents petitioning Ahava’s landlord not to renew its lease.

At the most recent protest the store manager came out to speak to the protesters to explain the pressure she was now under but, as polite as they were, they just explained back that although she is “an innocent bystander in all this, there’s a far bigger cause at stake.”

There is a right to peaceful assembly but these protests are not peaceful. Their regularity is a nuisance and they are discriminatory.

These “peace activists” would not stand outside a Palestinian owned business protesting Hamas’s atrocities against not just innocent Israeli civilians but Palestinian opposition activists.

Britain is a country that respects the human rights of al-Qaida suspects and argues that they should not to be deported. There is also the human right to work, which includes those who wishing to carry on a legitimate business. That should apply to Ahava and to workers in neighboring stores.


The writer is a London-based freelance journalist, studying for an MA in Near and Middle Eastern studies at SOAS. www.richardmillett.wordpress.com.


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