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A new Web site set up by pro-Israel Canadians seeks to defy anti-Israel boycotts by encouraging subscribers to deliberately buy Israeli products that are being boycotted.
The campaign, titled "Buycott Israel," was organized by the Canada-Israel Committee together with the Jewish federations of Vancouver and Toronto and the Canadian Jewish Congress, Pacific Region, to counter the increasing number of boycotts in Canada over the last year.
Aiming to turn a disadvantage into a strong advantage, Buycott Israel's Web site asks readers, "Are you fed up with calls to boycott Israeli goods and services? Want to do something about it?" and then calls on them to sign up for "Buycott alerts."
The enterprise promises to alert users "when a boycott initiative needs to be countered," and lets subscribers know the results of every Buycott action.
"These boycotts have been going on for while, but we've seen a real uptick in activity lately, and as a result, members of the community decided to push back in a very serious way," Sara Saber-Freedman, chief operating officer of the Canada-Israel Committee, told The Jerusalem Post by phone on Thursday.
Saber-Freedman explained that the campaign was in the process of "creating a database of people and items. The Web site is an interactive tool that will allow our subscribers to notify others when they find out about an attempt to boycott a particular [Israeli] item, and in turn the Web site will ask the subscribers to go out and buy that item."
She added, "We are making a statement to the people who seek to isolate Israel that we will see to it that Israel is less isolated, and we will do this because of those actions. And if you seek to limit access to Israeli academics, we will let these voices be heard."
Saber-Freedman told the Post that the worrying trend had been "cropping up in the commercial sector, in labor movements and even in churches"
"The United Church of Canada entertained a boycott notion recently, but it was defeated," she noted. "But even though it was generally defeated, it was deferred to next year for consideration, so we know that this problem is one that will keep on coming back."
Over the last year, there have been three public attempts to boycott Israeli wine in Canada: two protests in Vancouver, and one in Toronto. In the Toronto boycott, protesters led by the anti-war group Not In Our Name picketed liquor store LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) to protest the sale of Israeli wine there.
Dismayed and disgusted by the protest, Toronto's Jewish community rallied, and hundreds of Jews arrived at the scene to buy all the Israeli wine in the store. Activists claimed to have led LCBO to sell out of Israeli wine - over 500 cases in a just over half an hour - and to have caused the boycotters to leave in defeat not long afterward.
Although there have been a number of anti-Israel boycott campaigns in Canada recently, "in each of them, it comes out of our experience that [buying the product that is being boycotted] has been effective, successful and sends out an absolutely unequivocal message," explained Saber-Freedman.
"We even caused the store owners to stock up in anticipation for one of the boycotts," she recalled triumphantly. "We used our internal mail list to ask our members to specifically go and purchase Israeli wine, and as a result the wine sold out.
"What's more, in Vancouver, the second time the anti-Israeli protest happened, the store went out and stocked up on Israeli wine, because they knew that, ironically, if there was a picket, they'd do more business."
But turning serious, Saber-Freedman added that "in our experience, consistently, whether it's store-owners or organizers of cultural festivals, people are annoyed and irritated by people attempting to assert their political agenda on them and on the publicâ€¦ they are tired of being taken hostage by people whose agenda is so narrow and so unthinking."
The reversal of the boycotts appears to have galvanized the Jewish community, and with the advent of the Buycott Israel campaign, Saber-Freedman's hopes for the future are now brighter.
"We're very keen to see where this takes us. It's an exciting step in citizen-based advocacy for Israel," she said.
"As much as anything, we're thrilled that people are as interested in it as they seem to be. The news of the campaign is spreading across the blogosphere," she went on.
"People are just fed up. What we've been seeing in Canada over the last 12 months is an increase in the number of cases and instances where Israel is being boycotted, and we needed to do something against that."
Saber-Freedman stressed that "there's nothing 'stealth' in our approach. It's open and in-your-face. We're doing this in a very conscious way - we're not hiding anything.
"Ultimately, this campaign is part of what we all want - for Israel's right to exist in peace behind internationally recognized borders and not to be challenged at every turn."