Friday, March 16, 2012

BDSers target unabashedly liberal Jewish deli in Olympia, WA

From Living In Olympia website last November:

Standing in front of Hava Aviv I can sense that I am in the presence of a very bold, ambitious woman. Hava is co-founder of Kitzel’s Deli in Olympia, a Jewish restaurant set to open its doors on Capitol Way next month. Their mission is simple and refreshing. Bring quality food from local sources to your plate while creating an environmentally responsible, employee-empowering atmosphere.

Hava describes herself as an agent of social change. Earning a Masters degree in Environment & Community from Antioch University in Seattle, she is very conscious of the impact a business can have on both the environment and the community they serve. She believes that choices like whether or not to compost, how to treat employees, or where to buy supplies from can not be made from a traditional cost analysis where profits are the only consideration. Taking a big picture approach to cost analysis, she says that even if a program such as composting requires more time or a higher financial cost doesn’t mean it should be tossed out, because the cost to the environment and to the community will be higher as a result.

It is this big picture perspective and the desire to be a positive influence on the world that has driven Hava to tackle some even more challenging social issues.

As Hava delicately explains to me, Kitzel’s Deli was born out of a desire to promote a healthy, positive conversation. Citing the Olympia Food Co-op Board of Directors’ decision to join the BDS movement to boycott Israeli goods, she explains that she saw the local Jewish community being forced into an unenviable corner. “Lines began to be drawn. The conflicts became very black and white in town. You were either for BDS’s stated mission of being pro-Palestinian and pro-humanitarian or you were not. And there was no room for: ‘I love Israel, but I am highly critical of their government and their military actions’, which represents a large percentage of Jews in Olympia,” she says. She describes the resulting feelings as very reactionary. It was those feelings that drove her to facilitate the Jewish community in coming together to develop a dialogue around the issues. “I don’t want to be that person that is always standing up against something. It’s just too much darkness in one’s being. At some point you have to take an internal inventory and say okay, I’m anti all these things, so that means I’m pro…what?”

Hava and her business partner, Irina Gendelman, worked hard to promote an open conversation but found that non-Jews interested in learning more about the issues were reluctant to participate because the only location around town willing and able to accommodate meetings was the local Jewish temple. “We began to look around and noticed there was nowhere around Olympia where there is a sense of Jewish pride outside of religion. There is not a Jewish bookstore, there is not a Jewish cafe, there is nothing that says we are a Jewish something, where the average Joe or Jane feels like they can just walk in and participate.”

Kitzel’s Deli in Olympia is poised to change that. Through food they hope to showcase a proud piece of Jewish culture to the public and remove some of the barriers to understanding and awareness. “Who doesn’t love a good knish?” Hava jokes.

But in Olympia, being pro-Israel or even having an open mind about Israel - even if you have impeccable liberal credibility, even if you are dead-set against Israeli policy - is verboten.

From StandWithUs:
Just this week, anti-Israel intolerance showed its ugly face in Olympia, Washington. For those who don’t know, Olympia, Washington, is a center of anti-Israel activity. It’s a place where college professors don’t speak openly of their support for Israel because they may lose researchand that the college divest its endowment from companies doing business with or in Israel.

Kitzel’s Deli offered to work with StandWithUs to host speakers from Israel who were to talk about their lives, about their community, about the progressive nature of Israel.

Because Kitzel offered to host these Israeli speakers, BDS supporters are attempting to bully the deli. They’ve threatened to protest, boycott and to cause economic damage to stop Israeli voices from being heard in Olympia. Already, Kitzel’s weekly sales have fallen 50 percent and they’ve had to lay off half their staff.

The boycott activists in Olympia call themselves open-minded and liberal. But for people who claim to be liberal, to be open minded, their actions show them to be the most close minded, trying to silencing dialog and deny anyone with whom they disagree the right to speak. Apparently the only perspective that BDS activists will tolerate is their own perspective. Their actions are the most undemocratic – an unbridled, unapologetic attempt to deny Israelis and Israel's supporters the right to speak and be heard.

My understanding is that the boycotters are upset at the fact that Kitzel's hosted Israeli speakers arranged by SWU.

You can offer your support at Kitzel's Facebook page.

(h/t mishamb)