Rabbi Urges Fair Shake in Ahava “Controversy”

At Room Eight, Rabbi Serge Lippe of Brooklyn Heights Synagogue posts the full text of an email sent out by Kane Street Synagogue’s Rabbi Samuel Weintrob about the recent protest at Ricky’s on Montague Street by Brooklyn for Peace, inspired by Code Pink’s campaign against Israeli cosmetic company Ahava. The full text after the jump.

Dear friends,

As some of you know this past week on two separate days, at 107 Montague Street, Ricky’s, part of an East Coast chain which sells beauty products, was picketed by activists in solidarity with “Stolen Beauty” an international campaign to protest the sale of AHAVA products because some are manufactured in the West Bank.

What is the background of ”Stolen Beauty”?

This campaign is part of BDS, “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions”, a loose international movement, led by a number of nongovernmental organizations, to apply pressure on Israel to change government policies towards Palestinians. Over recent years, BDS has organized, all over the world, boycotts of Israeli intellectuals and artists, divestment from Israeli companies by Church governing bodies, the removal of Israeli films from Film Festivals, divestment campaigns at universities, cancellation of concerts in Israel by international stars, even the expulsion of an Israeli delegation to an international Gay and Lesbian pride march in Madrid this past Spring.

There are many, Jews, Muslims and Christians, who oppose the occupation of the West Bank for all sorts of moral and strategic reasons. There are places for them to advocate their position in Israel, in Diaspora Jewish communities and in American political circles. Indeed, the desire to end the occupation has propelled many Israelis to the two-sate solution, now even supported officially by the Israeli government.

This position, however, must be joined with an unequivocal commitment to the sovereignty and security of Israel. That commitment is not evidenced by BDS. It refuses to endorse a two-state solution (arguing that it’s too “political” ) , but includes many factions which promote the unqualified right of return for Palestinian refugees, which, apart form its impracticality, would mean the end of the Jewish state. BDS cultural and academic boycotts are sweeping, and uninterested in making any political or moral distinctions among their targeted Israeli professors, intellectuals and artists. It is their very existence as Israelis which makes them unacceptable.

I understand that many of the people involved in Brooklyn for Peace are well meaning, and earnestly trying to alleviate the suffering of Palestinians. However, they also ally themselves with a movement which is one-sided, and which is eager to tar the government and people of Israel with the broadest moral condemnation. They are not focused on effective political change; rather, they demonize and blacklist. Cora Weiss, a long time liberal activist and champion of the anti-nuclear and anti-Apartheid movements of the 1970‘s has criticized BDS as “too broad-brush”. Indeed, the BDS campaign at the Berkeley Student Senate was so biased that left wing J Street joined with right wing Stand with Us to oppose it. Together, they formed a coalition which warned “complexity should be reflected in the dialogue on campus, rather than our singling out one side or another for condemnation and punishment.”

The power of the anti-AHAVA campaign, supported by the international BDS network, should not be under estimated. They have managed to force COSCTO stores to remove Ahava products, and pressured “Sex and the City” star Kristin Davis not to seek renewal of her contract as an AHAVA spokeswoman. Join me in combating it, and giving Israel not a white wash but a fair shake.

I urge you to take these steps:

Contact Dom Costello, CEO of Ricky’s at 212 352 8545 X8 (this is the number pro-BDS advocates are calling) and/or leave a comment at: Rickysnyc.com, then click on “log in”, then click on “contact us”. Make it brief: You support Israel as a sovereign state and member of the United Nations. Israel’s manufactured products deserve the same access to markets as those of any other law abiding, democratic country. You strongly oppose the AHAVA boycott and will need to shop elsewhere if AHAVA products are withdrawn from Ricky’s.

If you have neighbors and friends who are wondering what to think, expose them to the literature and websites of many Zionist groups who are trying to promote a peaceful two state solution, from the Consulate of Israel to J Street.

In the words of Zionist students at Berkeley, “invest, don’t divest”. Don’t stand apart; find opportunities in Israel to support organizations which live out your values, and your vision of a Jewish state.

This week, before Tisha B’av, is the saddest week of the Jewish year, when we recall the destruction of the ancient two Temples. Our Rabbis believed that Jerusalem was destroyed, not so much by external armies as by the inability of her inhabitants to respect and understand each other. May we this year eschew rash judgments which provide emotional release, but don’t free anyone, and may be open to seeing one another in our G-d given complexity.


Rabbi Weintraub

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  • my2cents

    Well said, sir.

  • Angered bk heights resident

    I’m sorry, I will refuse to read this blog any more if you do not publish responsible, unbiased analyses of important political issues. I am glad that rabbi weintraub has shown me how I can contact Ricky’s and state that I actually do not support Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Violence against and occupation of Palestinian nationals has for too long been perpetuated under the guise of defense of Israeli sovereignty. Let’s be real – the Israeli state is not going anywhere. However, there continues to be mistreatment of Palestinian nationals and illegal settlement of land that even the United Nations is clear belongs to them. BHB, if you want to wade into this controversy, please provide more balanced coverage.

  • Matthew Parker

    Homer: Well done. You provide balanced coverage on almost all issues that affect or happen in Bklyn Heights.

  • my2cents

    Homer IS providing balanced coverage by reporting objectively on the rally against Ahava and then -with no editorializing of his own- publishing a response from someone in the neighborhood who disagrees with that rally. So what is the problem here? It’s not Homer’s job to provide “analysis.” He is merely reporting on things in the neighborhood.
    And if you do stop reading this blog, I don’t think anyone will miss you.

  • nabeguy

    With posts like the one from Angered BH resident, it’s no wonder that the situation in the West Bank is as volatile as it is. A completely misplaced knee-jerk reaction aimed not at the source of the discussion but the conduit for it. We should all be thanking whatever G-d we choose for the outlet that Homer provides us for expressing our unvarnished views. And that includes you, ABHR.

  • WillowtownCop

    I suspect every product on the market is offensive to some group for some reason. At a certain point you have to draw a line an say that every single thing you do is not a political act. As far as the Israelis and the Palestinians are concerned, neither group pushes my sympathy button, so I won’t be taking their welfare into consideration when I choose what to buy at Ricky’s.

  • Henry & hicks

    homer: I very much enjoy your reporting on our little cornerbif the borough. I agree with those who said ABHRs reaction was knee-jerk. However, with all due respect, I don’t think that republishing excerpts of other news organizations’ accounts of a protest and then republishing a long, slightly polemical post that is clearly advocating for one ‘side’ (and includes exhortations to action, etc) could be construed as being ‘balanced’ coverage. If the rabbi’s memo had been excerpted, and excluded the call to action, and/or it had been published alongside a memo from Code Pink, then I might call it balanced. As it stands, I hardly think this would pass a j-school intro class test for fair, balanced, or unbiased.

  • my2cents

    This is a blog, folks. If you want fair and balanced, well, oh wait, that doesn’t exist.

  • AEB

    But you, Angered, have had the opportunity, which you took, to challenge what YOU see as unbalanced reporting. (Of course, wholly objective reporting is, as my2 says, a fantasy.)

    Blogs are a process–that old dialectical one we learned about in school. Every contributing voice is heard; every opinion weighed. And, as often as not, the truth emerges.

  • AEB

    (That should have been “…more often than not….”.)

  • Obama?

    The Apartheid form of government in Israel is just as wrong as it was in South Africa!

    Don’t boycott Ricky’s, boycott Israel until they mend their Apartheid ways!

  • Freda

    It is illegal in America for any commercial enterprise to boycott Israel or Israeli products. Israel is a member of the World Trade Organization, and the sole democracy in the Middle East, in which Arabs have more rights than in any other Arab or Muslim state. Shame on those who object to Israel’s self-defense against suicide bombers, including its security fence, which has saved countless hundreds of lives, including dishonored women and mentally disabled people forced to blow themselves up as well as the demented wanna-be bombers who believe in death murder of Jews for the sake of murdering Jews and “going to paradise.” Ahava cream is much better than any of that, and well worth the money. Ahava means “love.” Buy some from Ricky’s today!

  • Judith Levine

    In general, I am against BDS. In the case of anti Israel boycotts, specifically Academic and Cultural boycotts target those who would be the most apt to be pro peace, pro Israel and pro 2 state solution. Gush Shalom, for example, supports a specific boycott that targets only those companies profiting from doing business in the West Bank. But, those are moving targets and the lists are not always reliable. Even those who wish to boycott selectively would want to reward, not punish those whose names still appeared on the list even after agreeing to the demands of the boycott. My final disagreement with BDS is that it simply doesn’t work. It is a kind of blockade. The blockade didn’t work in Gaza and it won’t work in Israel. People will feel threatened and will rally behind their leaders and silence dissent… exactly the opposite of the intent of the boycott.

  • T.K. Small

    I am slightly confused. Was this protest organized by BDS or Brooklyn for Peace? I was curious about Brooklyn for Peace and, although I found the organization, there was no reference on their website to this demonstration. Interestingly, I did however come across something written by Biviano regarding an earlier Brooklyn for Peace activity last fall. I wonder where candidate Biviano stands with respect to this issue.