November 17, 2011
From boycott to ‘buycott’
Efforts to combat delegitimization of Israel send ‘economic, psychological and political’ messages
In the latest effort to counter continuing efforts to delegitimize Israel on the world stage, a Buy Israel Week campaign will be held nationwide Nov. 28 through Dec. 4.
Frances Zelazny, a New York marketer who came up with the idea, said Buy Israel Week is an integrated online and print effort that is being co-sponsored by nine Jewish newspapers throughout the country, including The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. Coupons will be found online at buyisraelweek.com.
Zelazny said she has been concerned not only by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, but more recently by the effort of the Palestinians to gain United Nations membership as a means to further delegitimize Israel.
“This is a way to counter that by pushing not just Israel’s political but commercial aspects — highlighting its food, high-tech and other innovations,” she said.
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, has embraced the initiative because he said it “gives people another avenue to express their support for Israel and counter the increasing effort to boycott Israeli products. And it is sending various messages — economic, psychological and political.”
Although the BDS movement has not gained as much traction in the United States as it has in Europe, Hoenlein said, “We have seen manifestations of it here. There are increasing voices for BDS activities in church groups and by academic and cultural figures. … We are sending the biggest names in Hollywood to Israel to let them talk about the reality of what they see in order to counter the claims that Israel is an apartheid state.”
Just last month, a group of 75 New York University faculty members signed a letter asking that TIAA-CREF, a financial services organization, divest from the occupation in Israel, according to Hindy Poupko, executive director of the Council of Young Jewish Presidents.
She said her group, which represents more than 25 young leadership groups in New York, “clearly supports the Buy Israel Week initiative because we view it as positive PR for Israel. It is important for Americans and in particular New York consumers to understand the variety of contributions Israel has made in every possible field. … In an age when there are almost daily calls for a boycott of Israeli products, it is critical we go out there and demonstrate that there is a strong and growing market for Israeli products.”
Poupko pointed out that attempts to boycott Ahava products sold in Ricky’s New York City stores earlier this year was met with a “buycott” and that since then “the sales of Ahava products in Ricky’s stores have soared.”
“That speaks to the power of focusing our efforts to buy Israeli products at least one week a year, and hopefully consumers will enjoy the products enough to make them part of their everyday purchasing patterns,” she added.
Hoenlein noted that not only will Buy Israel Week counter boycott efforts but also it will “make people aware” of the Israeli products that are out there and encourage stores to carry them.
Martin Raffel, project director of the Israel Action Network, an initiative to mobilize the North American Jewish community to respond to the assault on Israel’s legitimacy, said Buy Israel Week is a good effort because “it supports the Israeli economy and that sends the right kind of message. And because it can be sent across the Internet, it has more of an impact.”
He added that such efforts have been held in other parts of the country in recent years. One of them is the buyisraelgoods.org Web site established about 10 years ago to showcase different Israeli products and services. (See story on the site’s founder here.) The America-Israel Chamber of Commerce in Chicago created it as a free service, according to its executive director, Michael Schmitt.
StandWithUs, a group that supports pro-Israel education worldwide, partnered with the chamber last year.
“They had a wonderful Web site and we had a wonderful global campaign,” said Roz Rothstein, the group’s chief executive officer.
She said the groups have held two campaigns, both on days on which Israeli products had been targeted for a boycott.
“We were very successful — people bought out the shelves of Israeli goods in cities around the world,” she said.
Even though boycott efforts have failed, Rothstein said she is still disturbed by the rhetoric the boycott groups use against Israel.
“Everyone should be troubled by these people who are trying to collectively punish the citizens of Israel,” she said. “A lot of them are propagandists and anti-Semites who have launched a movement that is poisonous and who use classical anti-Semitic rhetoric that needs to be condemned.”