In June, flyers were posted in downtown Toronto urging the public to “boycott Aroma Espresso Bar” as part of a broader campaign targeting Israelis for economic punishment.
This is not the first time the Israeli-owned coffee franchise, which now has dozens of locations across Ontario, has been the focus of the antisemitic Boycott-Divestment-Sanction (BDS) movement. Nor is it the only company targeted, as there have been similar efforts against Sodastream, Ahava, and Naot – to name just a few. But this latest incident provided another opportunity for our community to fight back with its own strategic campaign: a BUYcott of Israeli products.
Canadian Jewry can take pride for our community’s leadership in developing this simple, yet effective, response to boycotts. The first large-scale BUYcott took place nine years ago, when anti-Israel activists held a protest outside a midtown Toronto LCBO, urging customers to boycott Israeli wine. The idea of a counter-boycott spread rapidly throughout the community. Grassroots community members were joined by Jewish groups across the spectrum to unite around a single task: shopping for Israeli wines at the targeted store. Despite stocking up to meet the higher demand, the outlet quickly sold out its Israeli stock. BUYcotters emerged energized and empowered. The formula for success was set.
In the years since, CIJA has used the power of social media and the BUYcott brand to alert tens of thousands of Canadians about products and businesses targeted by BDS activists. We have also shared the campaign with pro-Israel activists globally, enabling tens of thousands around the world to take part in their communities. One of the reasons why the BUYcott approach has been so successful is that it speaks to three distinct audiences.
First, every BUYcott sends a powerful message to anti-Israel activists: When you boycott Israeli goods, you will only drive up demand and positive attention toward those very products. BUYcott is advocacy judo at its finest. BUYcotters have seen firsthand how demoralizing it is for BDS protesters to watch customers emerge from a targeted store proudly carrying Israeli goods, knowing this never would have happened without BDS. The effect is all the more impactful given the typically small size of boycott demonstrations outside Canadian businesses, which – according to our monitoring – usually garner no more than a handful of protesters.
Second, every BUYcott call sends a powerful message to businesses, consumers, and the broader Canadian public. A spike in demand creates a direct incentive for retailers to continue buying Israeli products. On social media, we encourage BUYcotters to post photos of their purchases to create a positive buzz around Israeli goods. In the end, effective advocacy is about reaching those in the “moveable middle” – those who are neither pro-Israel nor anti-Israel – and showing them that Israel, just like Canada, is home to a dynamic society, culture, and people.
Third, every BUYcott sends an important message to our community: Each of us can do something tangible to help defeat BDS. Today, it is easy on social media to focus one’s energy on feeling good rather than doing good. Pro-Israel advocacy is no exception. Sharing articles and posting one’s opinions are important in the battle of ideas online, but this should never be a substitute for taking strategic actions offline. This is especially the case when those actions go beyond the “echo chamber” of like-minded friends online, and show the non-Jewish world why every Canadian should be interested in what Israelis have to offer.
There are mountains of evidence showing that the BDS movement has failed to hinder Israel’s economic success. Israel’s trade with the world is rapidly growing, including in places like Europe – a hotbed of BDS activism. Here in Canada, we have yet to find a single business that has boycotted Israeli products.
Let’s keep it that way. And let’s keep using BUYcotts to fight back against BDS.