BDS supporter attempts to derail intl. Herbalist Conference in Israel

Organizers: This event is a non-political, peaceful gathering of healers

An anti-Israeli protest inspired by BDS (photo credit: REUTERS)
An anti-Israeli protest inspired by BDS
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Following pressure from supporters of the BDS movement, several speakers have canceled their appearance at Israel’s first-ever herbal-medicine conference, slated to take place in Poriya (near Tiberias) February 9-11.
The president of the American Herbalists Guild (AHG) also withdrew her support and asked that a video of her congratulating the Ancient Roots Israel conference team on organizing the event be pulled from the online platforms.
Shabina Lafleur-Gangji, an AHG employee and editor of the AHG Journal, took responsibility on both her Facebook and Instagram pages for spearheading the BDS campaign.
Attendees and speakers allegedly were being bullied not to participate. However, the official reasons for why they withdrew remain vague.
According to the AHG’s Code of Ethics, “AHG members, including council and committee members, will avoid activities that are in conflict or may appear to be in conflict with any of the provisions of this Code of Ethics or with one’s responsibilities and duties as a member of the Guild.”
Such measures are taken “to ensure an environment of inclusiveness and a commitment to fairness, justice and diversity, and advocating policies and procedures that foster fair, consistent and equitable treatment for all.”
In response, Ancient Roots Israel said in a statement it “is one of many initiatives all over the world creating community events that bring together herbalists from all countries, cultures, religions, political orientations and backgrounds to freely share their herbal wisdom and passion.”
“Sadly, some of our 2020 speakers and supporters have been falsely led to believe that supporting Ancient Roots Israel would be a wrongful political statement, and they have become the target of serious harassment endangering their work and livelihood by a campaign that is fostering the politics of division,” it added.
The conference was put together at a grassroots level, J. Rivka Asoulin, one of the Ancient Roots Israel conference organizers, told The Jerusalem Post.
It is mind-boggling that this event is being targeted, she said, adding: “We haven’t broken even. To do so, we need 50 participants, and we haven’t even hit that yet. That’s how small it is... None of us are getting paid or making any money from this. All the organizers, myself included, bought our own ticket to our own event.”
About eight months ago, the organization reached out to some herbalists, including several big names, and organized a nice venue, flyers and a website for the event, Asoulin said.
“This event is for us to share our skill set,” she said. “We set up an events page for participants to buy tickets, and I put my own personal credit card down on the hotel.”
Within a 48-hour period last week, Asoulin said, there was a coordinated BDS attack on the event, during which two speakers canceled and the AHG president asked for her video to be removed.
AHG is the largest herbalist guild in the world, she said, and clinical herbalists across the international spectrum are allowed to use the words AHG in their title after they get official recognition from the body’s board. This includes Israeli herbalists.
This whole campaign was an “inside job, and we are very concerned that this woman has abused her position of power from within the AHG to bully fellow AHG members, including the president, into boycotting Israel and aligning themselves with the BDS movement,” Asoulin said.
The conference is still going ahead, she said, and this event “is a nonpolitical, peaceful gathering of healers.”
“This about healing. It’s about Herbalists from across the world coming together to share their ideas,” Asoulin said.
Another organizer, Switzerland-based Betina Thorball, said herbalists “are people who promote inclusiveness at all times and aspire to the medical ethics of helping everyone, people who share our opinions, and people who do not.
“Ancient Roots Israel wants to promote this spirit and set out to organize a nonpolitical community event in Israel for herbalists to share knowledge, meet other local herbalists and people from abroad,” she told the Post, adding: “I am very saddened that this was misunderstood by others and offended them so much that they attempted to derail our peaceful activity that is led by private people, with their personal money, with their pro bono time.
“There is no place for politics at a gathering of people involved in healthcare. This is my strongest sentiment about all this,” Thorball said.
She said she considers herself “a good spokesperson for this cause, as I am not Jewish, not Arab, and I live in Central Europe.”
Thorball said AHG is a wonderful organization that does important work for all herbalists, “and we need them to be there, be strong, be respected by all.”
“It is so unfortunate that the public face of the group targeting us for boycott under the label BDS turned out to be an officer of the AHG,” she said. “She acted privately in this matter; that is clear. But unfortunately, there might be a conflict of interest here, given that she is holding an officer position at the AHG.”
Thorball called for the situation to be resolved, saying she hopes “the AHG might step forward and amend the situation somehow, as many people who do not know so much about the herbal scene will [equate] the private actions and opinions of a person working at the AHG with the position of the AHG.
“I want all herbalists united as herbalists, the prime mission of their life and action being to learn about herbs, teach about herbal medicine, help other people with this knowledge and be inclusive at all times, which is what the Code of Ethics of the guild says.”
Ancient Roots Israel said the “choice of targeting our noncommercial, nonpolitical activity, and thus trying to stop herbalists from gathering to further their knowledge of ways to improve the lives and health of people around the world, is indeed troubling and unethical.
“Once again we see something started with good and noble intent derailed by the politics of division that is sweeping the world. Nevertheless, Ancient Roots Israel will move forward as planned.”
The AHG did not respond to several requests for comment.
Reservists on Duty, which has helped to create awareness about the situation, said this nonpolitical event was being boycotted by members of what is supposed to be a nonpolitical American organization just because it is being held in Israel.
“We have no doubt that BDS activists are infiltrating more and more different professional associations to advance the boycott agenda on Israel through threats and pressure on various professional entities,” it said.