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“It’s because I’m a Jew isn’t it?”
How many times have you sat quietly while one of our local organizations, leaders or community members accused someone of antisemitism or anti-Israel sentiment when, in fact, the motivation of the speaker, writer or non-Jewish leader was anything but?
The situation this month involving the Bay stores and Ahava cosmetics from Israel was a good example of this. As you might recall, Ahava products were pulled from the Bay’s shelves at the same time a virulent anti-Israel group, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, was calling for a boycott of Israeli goods. Ultimately, we learned from Bonnie Brooks, CEO of the Hudson’s Bay Company (in a joint statement with the Canada-Israel Committee) that the products weren’t selling well and were being re-branded, and, therefore, the chain was curtailing sales, for a while.
The Bay’s timing was poor, but clearly there was no anti-Israel motivation in its decision. And while the shelves were cleared, a well-oiled machine – consisting mainly of hard-right bloggers and others caught in the maelstrom – began to churn. Unresearched communiqués flew through cyberspace, calling for a boycott of the Bay and the destruction of its high-interest-rate credit cards.
Individuals and groups such as B’nai Brith accused the chain of caving in to anti-Israel boycotters. Even after statements were made clarifying the situation, B’nai Brith continued to criticize the Bay and said it should consider advertising in B’nai Brith’s newspaper to make amends for its bad judgment. It was embarrassing to the entire Jewish community.
It was also wrong.
So we jumped the gun. It happens. In a world of instant communication, in which many don’t hesitate for a moment to vilify the Jewish state, one can understand the motivation. But at the end of the day, we sullied the reputation of a chain that has been carrying Israeli products for years. The Bay stated clearly that it had no interest in joining an anti-Israel boycott, a stance that could have a great impact on other retailers. It did exactly what we expect of it.
We screwed up.
So what do we do now as a people that pursues what is just? We apologize. We publicly call for our community members and others to shop at the Bay. As people who know what it’s like to be falsely accused, we declare that it’s time for our family to buy a new towel set at our local Bay store. But if we decide that we will stand firm and believe that the Bay is anti-Israel, we are doing a tremendous disservice to the company, and even more so to ourselves. Effectively, we are alienating our allies, blaming our friends and humiliating ourselves by taking a position that stores such as the Bay are guilty even when proven not guilty.
B’nai Brith would have acted in our interest, and done what was right, by being contrite and stating loudly that it misread the situation and responded incorrectly. When antisemites clash the cymbals of hatred in our ears, we should be grateful that goups such as B’nai Brith exist. They, like Canadian Jewish Congress, do a fine job, mostly. We are fortunate to have them watch out for us.
But when they’re wrong about a group, company or person – when someone has no intention of weakening Israel – let’s accept that reality and act like menschen. Shop at the Bay. The company deserves our apology.
“It’s because I’m a Jew isn’t it?”