On the cover this week ...
June 14, 2013
Boycott gaining steam
The United Church of Canada is implementing a measure advocated by its general council, which could see its members boycott products manufactured in “Israeli settlements.” Before congregants are going to be asked to reject products that carry the SodaStream, Ahava and Keter Plastic labels, the church is going to ask those companies to pull out of the West Bank.
Letters have been sent to the companies to try and create “conversation and dialogue,” said Wendy Gichuru, program coordinator of Africa and Middle East partnerships for the United Church. “At the moment,” the church has embarked on a “careful campaign to proceed by approaching the companies active in the settlements, whose products are available in Canada,” Gichuru said.
Items produced by Keter, SodaStream and Ahava are carried by Canadian Tire, the Home Depot, Rona, Future Shop, Hudson’s Bay, Walmart, Sears and Costco.
The UCC’s move is part of a three-step program to implement a campaign approved by the executive of the church’s general council. The measures include engagement with the companies, promoting consumer economic action, and evaluating the success of the program, followed by a report to the executive. “The campaign has been named Unsettling Goods: Choose Peace in Palestine and Israel, which focuses on the illegal Israeli settlements and the obstacles they pose for peace,” the UCC said in a statement.
Gichuru said the UCC and other churches around the world believe the peace process “has had little or no effect and the impacts on the ground are getting worse.” She said the UCC acted after Christian Palestinians called on it for non-violent action. “Some pressure is needed to bring about peace and end the occupation,” she said.
Israeli Consul General D.J. Schneeweiss criticized the church’s measures: “I think it’s regrettable they’re pressing a zero sum path of exclusion and withdrawal from the win-win path of constructive engagement,” he said. “The notion that [they’re] going to advance any worthy goal in the Middle East is wrong. It won’t bring peace. It’s not going to achieve anything any decent person would want.”
Schneeweiss said a far better route for the church to take would be one that promoted reconciliation, mutual acceptance and tolerance.
“It’s wrong to presume that the existence of Israeli companies in Israeli communities over the Green Line [Israel’s pre-1967 borders] are the cause of the conflict or the reason it hasn’t been resolved,” he added.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) adopted a similar position: “Last year, the general council of the UCC rejected our call to take up concrete measures to build up the Palestinian economy and instead opted to take destructive measures targeting Israelis,” said CIJA chief executive officer Shimon Fogel. “This year, the general council announced a boycott of various companies including, in the case of SodaStream, one that employs hundreds of Palestinian workers.
“Such a position, which claims to advance Palestinian aspirations by increasing the number of unemployed Palestinians, can only be described as intellectually dishonest. Its goal seems to be the self-satisfaction of the general council rather than an improvement in the life of the average Palestinian.” CIJA subsequently issued a call for a “buycott” of the Israeli-made products as a practical step to support the companies.
Last April, an attempted boycott of SodaStream products at a Halifax retailer “fizzled,” according to CIJA consultant Mark David. Only about a dozen protesters appeared at a Planet Organic retail outlet to call for a boycott, and they were shooed away by management. At the time, SodaStream president and chief executive officer Marta Mikita-Wilson said very little had come of boycott attempts over the years, other than to stimulate consumer interest in the company’s products.
SodaStream sells soda-making gas cylinders that allow consumers to make their own carbonated beverages. She said about half the workforce at its Mishor Adumim factory are Palestinians: “We create the work for them. We give them a chance to make a decent living.”
A video produced by SodaStream suggests Palestinians benefit from the factory’s presence. It would make more economic sense to locate it close to suppliers, technicians and Israel’s port, said company chief executive officer Daniel Birnbaum.
Gichuru said the UCC had spoken to “Palestinians on the ground” about the repercussions of a successful boycott. They were told that Palestinians have to make a living, so they work in settlements. “They recognize that factories may close and they’ll be out of a job.” Citing the World Bank, Gichuru said settlements are an impediment to the Palestinian economy. The hope is that with Israeli withdrawal and the opportunity to move freely, economic activity would pick up.
According to SodaStream, the company pays Palestinians more than the prevailing wage in the West Bank.
– For more national Jewish news, visit cjnews.com
Filling an empathy void
Rama Burshtein’s gripping debut, Fill the Void, focuses on the quietly dramatic domestic lives of religious Jews in Israel. Even more rare and unusual, however, is that the director is a member of that community, an observant Jew. And, as you discerned, a woman.
Born in New York and a self-described “wild child” back in the day, Burshtein became religious while she was studying at the Sam Spiegel Film and Television School in Jerusalem. The deeply empathetic Fill the Void wasn’t made for her community, she emphasized in an interview after a screening at the San Francisco International Film Festival recently, but for everyone else.
“It’s you that doesn’t know about us,” Burshtein explained. “I did the film out of pain, that we’re portrayed only [by] outsiders. No one from within really portrays us and we have no culture voice in the world, which is crazy because we’re 3,000 years old and we’re very wise and we’re very open-minded, and it’s crazy that we don’t have a voice. So I made a little squeak, trying to say something from within.”
Fill the Void, which Burshtein calls “a crazy love story” and a journey “from the impossible to the only possibility,” opens Friday, June 21, at Fifth Avenue Cinemas.
The film revolves around teenage Shira (Hadas Yaron, who received the best actress prize at the Venice Film Festival), whose marriage plans are upended when her pregnant older sister dies suddenly, leaving a widower and a newborn as well as grieving parents.
Torn between her dreams and a sense of responsibility to her mother and father, Shira grapples with the strange, alluring and vaguely frightening prospect of marrying her brother-in-law. However, unlike most films set among traditional, cloistered and religious people, the parents and rabbi aren’t depicted as agents of repression and suffering.
“I think it’s like a secret in life, which, of course, I did not make up, that if you start seeing the world without villains, then dialogue can start,” the 40-something filmmaker mused. “It’s very childish to work with villains and good guys and bad guys, so I specifically went [about] opening the dialogue.”
Misconceptions around arranged marriage are likewise addressed, with Shira having a definite say in who she marries. In the film’s mysterious and unexpectedly amusing opening scene, she and her mother surreptitiously check out a potential prospect – proposed by a matchmaker – in a supermarket.
“This is like a true portrait,” Burshtein said. “This is how it works. Shira would probably meet the guy from the super[market], and he’s a good guy and she likes the way he looks and they will marry, and from that commitment they will build generations. She will sit with someone, and if it doesn’t feel right, and it doesn’t move her in any way, she will not marry him.”
Burshtein evinced amazement that Fill the Void has traveled as far as it has, from international festivals to Israel’s official submission for the foreign language Oscar to an international theatrical release in North America. She’s even more stunned at the range of ways in which the audiences interpret and respond to the characters.
“There’s something very weird about this film,” Burshtein confided with a smile. “I think if I had really meant it, I would be a genius but, because I’m not a genius, I didn’t really mean it. I will not take that feather and put it on my hat.
“Everyone reads [the film] differently – but really differently. Someone will say this is a war movie, and someone will say it’s a peace movie. This is a victims’ movie, and someone will say it’s a love story. Some think it’s so tragic and some think it’s so romantic. I have no idea how it happened. I did not mean that. I meant to do a love story, only very delicate. The real location of the film is Shira’s heart, and the journey is to understand what she feels.”
Fill the Void unfolds with a great deal of tension and ambiguity, an approach that heightens the viewer’s fascination and identification with Shira and provokes immediate discussion after the credits roll. With a chuckle, Burshtein attributed the film’s power to luck rather than forethought or skill: “[Her heart] is where everything happens. It’s a house with rooms. Because she doesn’t have the words for it, because I am crazy enough not to [include] a girlfriend, so she would tell her what’s going on, it’s up to you to decide.”
Michael Fox is a writer and film critic living in San Francisco.
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