In a sense the battle’s already been lost (or won, from a BDS point of view) as Ahava is moving out of its Monmouth Street store in a month or so. But a small group of pro-boycott activists were picketing the store today – with a rather smaller group of counter-demonstrators on the other side.
It was my first visit to Ahava, and it was rather tempting to affect complete ignorance of the issues, and draw the BDS crowd into detailed conversations. But I couldn’t quite bring myself to playact – and was quickly irritated into grumpiness by the fact that one man was carefully explaining that the products were produced deep inside Palestinian territory, implying a narrow focus on settlement goods only, while another was wearing an unequivocal ‘Boycott Israel’ T shirt.
Both men were polite, and indeed on this occasion I can’t report any particular enormities from the BDS brigade. The only really aggressive note was when a demonstrator from their side shouted angrily at a woman trying (not with a great deal of luck as far as I could see) to encourage people to turn to Jesus. I chatted briefly with a man dressed as an orange – it was a curious exchange but he was perfectly Seville. In fact the only argument I got into was with someone on the Israel side, predictably enough. (It was good humoured though, a bit like an HP thread really.)
One thing that struck me as I chatted to Harvey and others behind the metal barriers (and it was novel to be behind a fence rather than sitting on one), and then later outside Tesco, was what seemed to me a complete lack of hostility from passers by. A few stopped to discuss the issues politely, some were actively friendly, most just wanted to get on with their shopping. Of course it’s good to be reminded that most people aren’t obsessed with Israel, but at the same time that in itself isn’t enough. Most people in the UCU aren’t either, but that hasn’t stopped a faction taking over the union and making some members feel that it no longer represents them.
If this was really just about settlement goods, I wouldn’t have gone to London to counter-demonstrate. I’m perfectly receptive to stories such as this, and I realize that some Israelis also choose to boycott such products, and that many are concerned at Israel’s moves to outlaw such boycotts. Neither in fact am I strongly opposed to such products being labelled more clearly . But although the Ahava campaign might seem limited and acceptable, the overall BDS campaign is intent on targeting every kind of contact with Israel – cultural, sporting, academic.
The next demonstrations will take place at 12 noon in a fortnight’s time.