TORONTO — Canada’s main pro-Israel advocacy group is urging Canadians to shop at housewares retailer Bed, Bath & Beyond in response to a call last month to boycott Israeli-made Ahava cosmetics and SodaStream home carbonation products being sold at the U.S.-based chain.
Buycott Israel, an initiative of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) that was started in 2009 to encourage consumers to support Israeli-made products in response to boycott actions, sent out an alert to its followers last week in response to a flash-mob demonstration in a Bed, Bath & Beyond store in Larkspur, California on Dec. 10.
There have been no reports of protests at the company’s Canadian outlets – located in Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island – said Sara Saber-Freedman, the Montreal-based executive vice-president of CIJA and the lead on the Buycott file.
The boycott was organized by the U.S.-based group Codepink, which has targeted Ahava products in the past. The group describes itself as “a women-initiated grassroots peace and social justice movement.”
It claims that Ahava cosmetics and SodaStream home carbonation products “are fraudulently labelled as ‘Made in Israel,’ but are in fact produced in illegal Israeli settlements, under the conditions of a military occupation in the West Bank, outside the internationally recognized borders of Israel.”
Ahava counters that the minerals used in its products are mined in the Israeli part of the Dead Sea, which is undisputed internationally, and that Mitzpe Shalem, the West Bank kibbutz where Ahava products are produced, is not an illegal settlement.
Saber-Freedman, right, said she was gratified that many U.S. Jewish organizations, such as the American Jewish Committee and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, have latched onto the buycott method to fight such situations as they arise in the U.S.
“Buycott is a tool that’s only as strong as the breadth of participation. We’re proud to be a part of what continues to be one of the few examples of open-source advocacy,” she said.
“We will follow up with Bed, Bath & Beyond. But the message to the people calling for this boycott is that the immediate result of them organizing a boycott is that there will be an increase in sales of the product they’re boycotting,” Saber-Freedman said.
A U.S.-based spokesperson said the chain won’t pull the Israeli products.
“In order to offer our valued customers the widest selection possible, Bed Bath & Beyond carries products from all over the world,” Rachael Risinger said. “As long as our customers continue to purchase and enjoy those products, we will continue to make those products available to our customers.”
Saber-Freedman said said the buycott tactic has “worked pretty much every time” it has been employed.
In 2009, hundreds of pro-Israel consumers converged on a mid-town Toronto LCBO outlet to counter a call to boycott Israeli wines. Within a few hours, the store had sold out of its stock of about 150 cases of Israeli wine.
Last year, Saber-Freedman and Buycott Israel helped dispel rumours that The Bay had removed Ahava beauty products from its shelves as part of a boycott request from Canadian anti-Israel group Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME).
The Bay had in fact temporarily removed the products from its stores in order to make room for a rebranded Ahava line that it continues to sell.
Last week, CIJA refreshed the old Buycott Israel website and Facebook page to update its functionality and “feel,” Saber-Freedman said.
For more information, visit www.buycottisrael.ca.