Jewish groups gear up to support Israeli products

Jewish groups gear up to support Israeli products

A motorcycle cavalcade is expected to ride from Hackensack to Trader Joe’s in Paramus on Sunday in a show of support for the food retailer, which has been threatened with a boycott by anti-Israel activists.

Bob Nesoff, president of the New Milford Jewish Center and a member of Jewish motorcycle clubs Hillel’s Angels and Chai Riders, began coordinating the counter-protest last week. He has arranged paths along routes 4 and 17 with local police departments. And while the Trader Joe’s in Paramus carries only a small number of Israeli products, he said, he has been told that the store will stock up on those ahead of the ride. (The Jewish Standard was not able to confirm this.)

“Our message is simply, ‘If you are going to try to harm Israel, we are going to do our best to help Israel,'” Nesoff said. “They’ve got to know that Jews and friends of Jews in Israel are not going to sit back and take it on the chin.”

Participants in the ride will not speak about the state of negotiations or the two-state solution, Nesoff said. They will be there only to show support of the Jewish state.

Nesoff couldn’t speculate about the numbers expected, but he said groups of Chai Riders and Hillel’s Angels are coming from around New Jersey and New York, as well as a BMW motorcycle group from Rockland County, N.Y., and another Rockland group. Other activists have called to ask if they can come in their four-wheel vehicles. “It looks like everybody’s coming together,” he said.

The boycott has been organized by the pro-Palestinian group Don’t Buy Into Apartheid, part of the larger Boycott, Divestment and Santions for Palestine.

Organizers of the Don’t Buy into Apartheid Day, also known as Day of Deshelving Israeli Products, wrote to Trader Joe’s asking the company not to sell Israeli products, such as hummus and couscous, in their stores on June 20. According to the statement, the protests proceeded in Sacramento, San Francisco, and Oakland, Calif.; Pittsburgh, Pa.; and Seattle, Wash.

Protestors pulled Israeli products from shelves and put them in shopping carts with stickers identifying them as Israeli, said Kate Raphael, one of the organizers. They also handed out leaflets with coupons to give the cashiers imploring the company to stop carrying Israeli products.

“It was a really successful first [effort],” Raphael said during a telephone interview Wednesday. “Obviously it’s a long-term campaign. We feel pretty confident that we will succeed.”

Trader Joe’s corporate headquarters responded to the organization in a statement earlier this month. “Our response is that we sell products, and do not use our products as political tools or to make any statements about any political causes. We have no intention of removing any products based on pressure from any group, no matter what they support or don’t support. As always, we believe our customers are smart, and they are capable of making decisions about what they purchase.”

The response earned praise from Israel advocacy groups. “Trader Joe’s responded admirably by standing up against the campaign,” said Etzion Neuer, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s New Jersey office.

A manager of the Trader Joe’s in Edgewater said there were no incidents reported on Saturday, while media reports from across the country said that the demonstrations failed to take place. Instead, according to reports, Israel supporters visited the stores and insisted on buying Israeli products.

In response to the company’s statement that it would not be swayed, Raphael said that would not stop her group’s efforts. “They sell what their customers want,” she said. “It’s up to us to reach the customers and get the customers to let [Trader Joe’s] know what they want.”

Despite the apparent inability of the group to mobilize the boycott locally, Nesoff remained firm on the need to show support. “If [the boycotters] get away with this now, they’re going to go from Trader Joe’s to Target to Kohl’s to whomever else,” Nesoff said. “We feel it’s got to be stopped in its tracks.”

The motorcycle procession will start Sunday at 10 a.m. at The Shops at Riverside. For more information, call Nesoff at (201) 385-2000.

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