NEW YORK – In the US, away from rockets, sirens, and bomb shelters, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is fought in the marketplace – in the products consumers choose to buy, and the ones they choose to boycott.
Ten years ago, during the second intifada, Suzanne Weilgus struggled to find something she could do to support the Jewish state. The last thing the world needed, she thought, was another organization asking for money, and then the idea came to her. She and two friends founded American Communities Helping Israel and launched a campaign called The Klee – Enjoy Israel on Your Table.
Weilgus’s goal has been to encourage Jews around the world to display a klee, which in Hebrew means “vessel” or “dish,” prominently in their homes and to fill it with Israeli-made goods, such as candies and nuts, and in the bathroom, soap. Weilgus hopes the klee and the Israeli products that fill it will give hosts a way to introduce the Jewish state into conversation with guests. Ultimately, she and her organization would like to see the klee become a part of Jewish tradition.
“We’re asking people to make the lateral change,” to buy Israeli-made soaps instead of Lever or Dove, Israeli chocolates instead of Hershey’s, she told The Jerusalem Post on Friday. “It’s a lifetime commitment.
Once you get used to it, you always do it.”
On ACHI’s website there’s a link to BuyIsraelGoods.
org, which collects listings of businesses in cities around the United States that sell Israeli-made goods. Users can sort items by type of product, including women’s hats, hardware and flowers, and a sidebar lists Israeli brands.
Visitors to the website can submit store listings to the directory, and when a physical store isn’t nearby, the website lists online retailers.
The klee is a visual reminder to shop Israel, and if there aren’t stores around, to visit websites such as BuyIsrael- Goods.org. “We needed a new piece of Judaica, because when you see it, you know you have to fill it,” Weilgus said.
Particularly since the most recent round of fighting began, Consul-General in New York Ido Aharoni has been advocating that Americans who support the Jewish state buy Israeli goods. People who would like to travel to Israel and show their support but can’t should buy goods made in Israel, he said. The Internet makes this easier than ever.
“This is an indirect way to allow people to use technology in order to show support, and you’re winning twice.
You do something that is fulfilling to you as an individual who cares about Israel, whether you’re Jewish or not is irrelevant – and you’re truly helping,” Aharoni said.
The economic impact of individuals won’t be much, but it’s the spiritual connection that people like Weilgus are trying to achieve. In time, maybe a critical mass will form.
On the other side of the equation, movements like Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions focus on convincing large organizations not to buy products or not to make investments that support Israeli-run businesses in the West Bank. This year, the Presbyterian Church (USA) became the biggest American religious group to join the BDS movement. According to Rabbi Alissa Wise of Jewish Voice for Peace, a national organization that supports a two-state solution and the end of violence, a number of other churches, including the Methodists and Quakers have expressed support for the move.
Earlier this year, SodaStream, whose main manufacturing facility is located in Ma’aleh Adumim in Judea, made headlines when spokeswoman and Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson refused to end her contract with the carbonated water company and instead chose to say goodbye to Oxfam.
American Muslims for Palestine helped put the pressure on Johansson, and though they wish she’d chosen Oxfam over SodaStream, Kristin Szremski, director of media and communications for AMP is glad the campaign forced the actress’s hand – although she said she’s never going to see another movie featuring Johansson again.
What she’s found to be more difficult than the actress’s choice is the fact that people feel uncomfortable criticizing Israel.
“People are afraid to embrace the Palestinian issue, because they’re afraid to be labeled anti-Semitic. Criticizing policies is not anti-Semitic.
Criticizing people based on their ethnicity or faith would be anti-Semitic,” Szremski said. “If somebody in this country criticizes Obama because they don’t like Obamacare it doesn’t make them anti-American.”
So instead of asking people to take on the emotional and financial burden of effecting change one by one, movements like BDS are pushing organizations with big contracts to be agents of change.
Getting organizations to commit not to buy products manufactured by companies in the West Bank takes time and education, not yelling, Wise said.
“It’s not just about standing out front and protesting.
It’s about getting to the decision- makers,” Wise said. “It’s about where the headquarters are and who can make the decision to stop buying these products.”
Recently Jewish Voice for Peace has been pressuring Hewlett Packard to stop doing business with Israel.
The tech company produces the magnetic biometric ID cards Palestinians need at IDF checkpoints to enter Israel. In mid-July, the JVP organized a “die-in” at the company’s Palo Alto, California, headquarters.
HP hasn’t changed its policies, but Wise is hopeful.
In addition to pressuring corporations and what Wise calls “socially responsible organizations” like the Presbyterian Church, there are boycotts of individual products.
During Ramadan particularly, American Muslims for Palestine has been pushing for the boycott of medjool dates grown in the West Bank, the sales of which profit Israel. There are a few Palestinian date growers, Szremski said, but they can’t export their dates as far as the US Instead, AMP has been advocating that Muslims buy California- grown dates during Ramadan.