MONTREAL — Some needy men in Montreal will be considerably better shod this season thanks to the generosity of opponents of an anti-Israel boycott of a St. Denis Street shoe store.
Sharon Freedman, right, takes delivery of her purchases from Ginette
Auger, wife of store owner Yves Archambault, at Boutique Le Marcheur.
Sharon Freedman bought more than $3,000 worth of merchandise at Boutique Le Marcheur that she will donate to a local charity, possibly the Welcome Hall Mission or the Salvation Army.
The money came from her own pocket and from members of the Jewish community. Freedman is part of an informal network of supporters of the store’s owner, Yves Archambault, who since early October has been defying pressure to stop selling Israeli-made merchandise.
Every second Saturday afternoon, and lately each week, members of PAJU (Palestinian and Jewish Unity) have been picketing outside the store, quietly holding banners and Palestinian flags and handing out flyers denouncing “Israeli apartheid.” Le Marcheur stocks a line of Israeli shoes called BeautiFeel, which represents a small part of its inventory of high-end footwear.
The protesters have been ticketed by police on a couple of occasions for minor infractions, but no criminal charges have been laid.
Freedman, a social worker, has been going to the store each time a demonstration takes place, along with other Jewish Montrealers. Many of them have also bought merchandise as a means of countering the boycott campaign, or have attempted to explain Israel’s side.
“People have the right of freedom of speech, but trying to economically hurt a small businessman is wrong.
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If he loses money, his five employees may lose their jobs,” she said. “It’s harassment and borders on incitement to hatred.
“Israel is not perfect and I disagree with a lot of things, but they should not hurt a small business.”
The protesters have included Amir Khadir, the sole member of the National Assembly for Québec solidaire, which has officially endorsed the so-called boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel.
Freedman thinks boycott proponents should be aware that the cellphones and computers they use probably contain Israeli-made components, and even the locking system of the Bixis, Montreal’s popular bicycle-sharing program, comes from Israel.
PAJU says its aim is to make St. Denis Street, the heart of a trendy district of shops and restaurants, an “Israeli apartheid free zone,” and Le Marcheur is the first target.
Freedman said she finds this “racist and quite frightening. It reminds me of Hitler’s judenrein [edict].”
Archambault has also received encouragement from Norman King, who has been a member of the Montreal Dialogue Group, composed of Jews and Arabs, and is sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.
He wrote an open letter to Archambault, a copy of which Dida Berku, a lawyer and Côte St. Luc councillor, sent to The CJN. Berku and her husband, businessman Jacob Kincler, are among those who have been going to Le Marcheur during the demonstrations.
King said PAJU “does not in any way represent the concerns of the Jews of Montreal, with the exception of a few individuals.”
He pointed out that Amnesty International, an organization with which he has been involved, is against the use of boycott as a means of protest against a country’s human rights record.
The Quebec-Israel Committee has advised community members not to go to the store during the protests, but Berku believes that’s the best time to show solidarity with Archambault.
While she agrees confrontation with the protesters should be avoided, Berku said it can be an opportunity to engage in a “civil discourse.” There has been some heckling and heated verbal exchanges, and at least one incident of physical contact that police broke up.
“Mr. Archambault is happy when we are there when they [the protesters] are there,” she said. “The fact is that he has been holding out, and we have to support him, especially when the protesters are there. Customers and passersby are just hearing one side of the story. We can educate them.”
PAJU president Bruce Katz called the tickets for handing out flyers and standing with banners, rather than keeping moving, “intimidation tactics” on the part of the police. The group, he stressed, won’t back down. In fact, it has put out a call for all other groups in Quebec that support a boycott of Israel to join in the protests.
If Archambault removes the Israeli shoes from his shelves, Katz said PAJU will encourage everyone to shop at Le Marcheur.
“No one – no one is going to dictate to me what to sell,” Archambault told The CJN. He insisted that will not change. “We have a free society in Quebec, and there is a free trade agreement between Canada and Israel.”
Archambault, who has owned the store since 1979, said he has no allegiances in the Middle East conflict, and stocking shoes from Israel has nothing to do with politics. “We buy goods on two criteria only: their quality and comfort.”
He noted that he also sells shoes from China, but the protesters have no quarrel with that.
The demonstrations have affected his business in the sense that he has had to take time to deal with police and consult a lawyer.
“Thanks to the encouragement of the Jewish community, we have been able to keep sales at a reasonable level.”