HAMILTON — The organizer of a counter-protest against anti-Israel groups at a Hamilton Canadian Tire store Sept. 21 believes his group reached its goal.
“If we hadn’t been there, the Hamilton Spectator would have only written about the anti-Israel crowd. But they could not ignore our presence,” said Israel Truth Week founder Mark Vandermaas. “We used their event to peacefully and firmly take away their message.”
Vandermaas, who is not Jewish, founded Israel Truth Week last year in response to the vilification of Israel, as well as the intimidation of Jewish students at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont., where he lives. Vandermaas is a former member of the Canadian Forces who has served with a United Nations peacekeeping force in the Middle East.
Organizations including Hamilton Coalition to Stop the War (HCSW), Canadians for Peace and Justice in the Middle East and the Palestinian Association of Hamilton want this Canadian Tire location to stop selling the drink-maker after its current inventory sells outs, something that some other stores have promised. SodaStream has been boycotted internationally by pro-Palestinian groups.
They say the “Made in Israel” product is mislabelled. The product is made at a factory in Mishor Addumim in the West Bank, a settlement protesters say is illegal.
“The product is produced on stolen land and at the expense of the livelihoods of the Palestinian families,” HCSW said in a news release.
On Sept. 21, each side had about 20 to 30 people show up in the pouring rain. Vandermaas said he was joined by Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Jews, including David Freeman, former Toronto chair of the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research; Salomon Benzimra, co-founder of Canadians for Israel’s Legal Rights; Pastor David Cummins, Tahir Gora, founder of Progressive Muslims Institute Canada; Ilana Schneider, executive director of Canada-Israel Friendship Association and members of Hamilton’s Never Again Group.
Four days earlier, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs issued a “buycott” call to alert supporters of Israel to the anti-SodaStream boycott effort aimed at Canadian Tire.
As part his overall mission, Vandermaas wants to get the message out that Israel isn’t an occupier, but an owner of the land, thanks to a land title deed given to the Jewish People under international law that created the “two-state solution” in 1922.
That’s when the League of Nations ratified the 1920 San Remo Resolution dividing the planned Jewish state of Palestine into two: one for Jews (now Israel) and one for Arabs (now Jordan), he said.
“Our mandate is to protest with dignity and protest with resolve. I see no more important project… than making sure the Jewish community understands San Remo,” Vandermaas said. “There is an iron-clad title deed founded in the bedrock of international law. This is not generally known, even among Jews.”
“If you are going to give away a huge portion of your birthright, you better at least understand you are doing so as owners and not as monstrous occupiers. More than that, the world needs to understand.”
Vandermaas adds that the pro-Palestinian groups are demonizing a company that provides a living for hundreds of Arab families.
“We follow the ways of Martin Luther King, who raised black people up instead of putting white people down, “ he said. “Why don’t they raise up the Arabs instead of tearing down the Jews?”
Barb Babij, CEO of the Hamilton Jewish Federation, said boycotting a store for selling a product such as SodaStream is counterproductive.
“We’ve learned that the SodaStream company fosters positive relationships between its Israeli and Palestinian employees. What rational person supposedly promoting peace between Israelis and Palestinians would boycott such a company? That is why our federation is promoting the ‘buycott’ policy, hoping our community will buy this product to show support for the Canadian Tire store that has been targeted for this protest,” she said.
Vandermaas said he hopes the store manager now feels more confident about carrying the product. And as the protest ended, counter-protesters showed their support and bought more than $600 worth of SodaStream products.
Representatives from Canadian Tire did not return calls for comment by The CJN’s deadline, but in an email, spokesperson told correspondent Jordan Adler that the company is “committed to ethical business practices here in Canada and internationally.”