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Community lines up behind nationwide effort to promote Israeli products

by Dan Klein, JTA

November 21, 2011 | 1:02 pm

Their effort may be coming on the heels of “Black Friday,” but organizers of a new nationwide campaign are hoping that consumers will hold on to some of their shopping dollars to show support for Israel.

Jewish newspapers, pro-Israel groups, Israeli companies and retailers are joining together to launch the first Buy Israel Week, which runs from Nov. 28 to Dec. 4.

Retailers are offering special offers on Israeli goods and nine Jewish metropolitan papers are publishing special supplements and a website, buyisraelweek.com, is featuring deals, coupons and contests in order to showcase the breadth of Israeli products.

“From a consumer perspective, Israel is known as a high-tech place,” said Frances Zelazny, a marketer from New York who conceived and organized the campaign. “We want to show some consumer brands, the coolness of the fashion, the food.”

Buy Israel Week, however, is about more than just encouraging commerce.

Spurred by the debate over Palestinian statehood at the United Nations and an ongoing campaign by pro-Palestinian activists to promote the boycott of Israeli goods, Zelazny, who has been involved in Israel activism, began contacting potential partners and supporters.

“Not everyone can fly to Israel, or march on Congress, or rally at the U.N.,” Zelazny said. “But people can make a purchasing decision.”

The campaign’s website lists support from businesses such as jdeal.com, the Israeli national airline El Al and the Dead Sea skin care giant Ahava; Israel trade organizations like the Israel-America Chamber of Commerce, Manufacturers Association of Israel and the Israel Export Institute; Jewish organizations such as the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; and the nine Jewish newspapers publishing supplements.

“This is a significant movement because of the growing BDS efforts and the pressures on some Israel goods,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Presidents Conference, which is pushing the campaign on campuses and through its mailing list. “We felt it’s important to have a positive effort.”

Indeed, some of the participating businesses have been direct targets of the boycott, divestment and sanctions, or BDS, movement. They include Ahava and stores that sell the cosmetics company’s products.

Some retailers, which had been targeted by BDS activists in the past but continue to stock Israeli goods, nonetheless chose not to participate in Buy Israel Week so as not to attract attention, said Jodi Samuels, the co-founder of jdeal, which has partnered with Jewish media outlets to find local retailers to participate in the campaign, as well as providing the online and social media efforts.

“There were some national retailers which had previously been targeted by BDS campaigns, they were nervous about joining the campaign and would rather stay under the radar,” Samuels said.

According to Zelazny, most of the campaign’s costs have been covered by corporate sponsorships, although she was not able to say the amount raised or the price of the campaign. Other groups are contributing non-monetary services, and Zelazny says she is donating her time.

Although there have been other so-called “buy-cott” campaigns to counter BDS efforts, organizers believe this will be the largest recent effort to promote Israeli goods—and one they hope will be repeated and expanded in years to come.

“The promotion of Israel products isn’t just economical, it’s psychological and political,” Zelazny said. “People see that Israel isn’t isolated; you see the breadth of creativity, the range of products from food to high-tech. People don’t think of Israel in that sense. There are really some amazing food and consumer items.

“Instead of buying excellent Chilean wine, they can buy wine from Israel. We want people to next time not buy shoes made in Italy, but in Israel.”

She added, “You buy something because you think it’s cool, fresh, on its merits. That it’s made in Israel is an added bonus.”

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