By Simon Jaffe
There is a debate raging on my Facebook page about the rights and wrongs of Buy Israeli Goods week (July 1-7). There are two points of view being expressed, with very little common ground. Some swear blind by medjool dates. Others are very much sticking to pickled olives. This isn’t just internecine Zionist warfare in the shopping aisles, friends with little or no interest in Israel are wading in to make their preferences.
Last year trade between the UK and Israel hurtled towards £4bn. Every major supermarket in the UK stocks Israeli products. Even at the Co-op, with their ban on settlement goods and the (Israeli) companies which trade in them, it was possible to buy Israeli carrots last week – as one shopper in rural Wales excitedly texted me.
The Buy Israeli Goods campaign is asking you to add one or two extra Israeli items to your shopping basket this week (either in store or on line); have a positive chat with your supermarket manager about Israeli goods, and to take perhaps the most significant step of all, to drop a quick line to customer services at Head office. Show appreciation at the Israeli goods which are being stocked, polite disappointment if there isn’t much available, and explain how you would like the range to be extended.
We’ve asked people to focus on Sainsbury’s if they can, not because we’ve got shares in the company, but because we know that they are the latest target of a negative and sterile almost-decade long campaign to “boycott Israeli goods”.
Of course the more sophisticated retail analysts amongst you will ask what possible impact can we expect to have on the buying habits of massive global supermarket chains? Even if all the shelves in Golders Green and Hendon are denuded of Israeli dates and olives overnight, it wouldn’t make the tiniest blip on their bottom line.
No doubt, that’s correct. But in today’s climate no business can afford to hack off an entire community and its friends. And if the only noise is coming from those wanting to boycott Israel, we can hardly complain if supermarkets respond by placating them – if they feel there is no one much out there with a contrary view.
But speaking personally, I’m as interested in the impact Buy Israeli Goods week will have on us, as much as on the supermarkets themselves.
Last Wednesday, I was firing off messages and flyers to friends and contacts right across the country to promote the campaign. The extent to which this is a national campaign is remarkable, extending well beyond the Jewish community and the usual postcodes of North West London and Manchester. And it is a campaign which everyone can participate in. There is no need for PhD expertise on the Middle East situation or training in the art of public speaking.
It is a positive, public and non-confrontational opportunity for us all to show pride in Israel and the high quality products which it exports, and to defend our customer choice. When you stick that extra item in your trolley, know that hundreds and even thousands of shoppers are doing the same right across the country, and feel good about it.
So its time to choose. Are you for olives or dates or can you see yourself being broadminded enough to buy both?
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The Board of Deputies is proud to promote Buy Israeli Goods Week through the Fair Play Campaign Group (a project of the Board and the Jewish Leadership Council), alongside the Zionist Federation and Stand With Us UK.
Steven Jaffe is consultant to the Board of Deputies on communal engagement with Israel. His work is part-funded by the Jewish Leadership Council.