By Lilly Fowler and Tom Tugend
Although “World Refugee Day,” the boycott of Trader Joe”s planned by the anti-Israel group “Don”t Buy into Apartheid,” came and went on Saturday, June 20, with no apparent incidents in Los Angeles, other cities in California did witness protesters invade the popular supermarket chain.
Kate Raphael, one of the organizers of the event, said she joined approximately 20 others as they marched into a Trader Joe”s store in Oakland, Calif., passing out hundreds of leaflets, which condemned Israel”s actions, while taking Israeli products off the shelves. Similar demonstrations occurred in San Francisco and Sacramento.
In Los Angeles, however, the only unusual activity reported was that of local patrons walking into the national food chain to ask fo Israeli products in specific.
E-mails calling for a response to the boycott had circulated virally throughout the Jewish community in the week prior, as well as on Facebook, asking people to patronize the store in defiance of the boycott and in support of the Jewish state. Roz Rothstein, CEO of StandWithUs, said that her pro-Israel organization had also urged supporters across the United States and elsewhere to go into Trader Joe”s and other markets to purchase Israeli goods.
Despite the Jewish backlash, Raphael declared the “Don”t Buy into Apartheid” demonstrations a success.
“I think overall the response by customers was quite positive,” Raphael said, when describing the reaction to her group and their effort to alert customers to what they see as Trader Joe”s unfair policy: stocking Israeli products while carrying no Palestinian goods.
She said while some customers argued with her and other demonstrators, others simply thanked them for the information. The response on the part of Trader Joe”s staff was equally wide-ranging. The manager of the Oakland store informed the group that they would not stop carrying Israeli products until a majority of their customers stopped buying them.
But Alison Mochizuki, a spokesperson for Trader Joe”s more than 300 stores, reiterated the privately owned chain”s stance.
“Trader Joe”s will not be used as a political tool, and we will not remove any products under pressure from any group. We believe our customers are smart and capable enough to make their own choices,” she said.
Raphael said her organization will be releasing a press release and pictures of the boycott on Monday, June 22.
“Don”t Buy into Apartheid” is part of the “Global BDS Movement,” or “Boycott Divestment Sanctions Campaign,” and aims to “oppose Israeli occupation, apartheid, violence, and land theft and to support equality and justice for all, including the Palestinian people.”
StandWithUs has called the campaign “one-sided” and has accused the organization of undermining the Middle East peace process.