The BDS movement – which seeks to boycott, divest from and sanction the state of Israel – is having an impact. Though maybe not exactly as they’d hoped.
There was a tempest in a coffee pot recently when an East Vancouver café waded into the topic, angering some customers and, we surmise, perhaps some of the establishment’s own employees and investors.
As we addressed in this space last week, Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party of Canada, was dismayed by the vote by her party in convention to support the BDS movement. She pondered resigning her position but this week announced that she would remain at the helm and seek to revisit the issue with her party.
A social media feed for Bows & Arrows Coffee, on Fraser Street, declared that May’s lack of support for BDS meant that she “got cowardly” on the issue and “caved.” One online commentator responded that the café’s coffee “tastes a little too antisemitic for my liking.”
After some social media back and forth, the co-owner of the café, which is headquartered in Victoria and only recently opened the Fraser Street location, published a statement acknowledging that he had “tweeted without consultation with staff and business partners.” Seemingly surprised that a simplistic #BDS hashtag and name-calling would elicit strong and equally simplistic reactions, he says that he blocked other posters and deleted tweets. He did these things, he claims, because he “wanted to address real arguments, not stand in a storm of accusers that would not engage or address my criticism of a state.”
Hopefully, he has learned that Twitter is not designed for intelligent and in-depth debate or discussion. More hopefully, perhaps he will now consider the possibility that BDS is not necessarily about “solidarity with oppressed peoples everywhere.”
While BDS supporters, including the one involved in this instance, reject the idea that the movement has any antisemitic elements and insist it targets “Netanyahu’s administration and policies of expansion in the territories,” plenty of evidence exists to suggest that BDS aims to end the existence of a Jewish state and, some would argue, this is perforce antisemitic.
Nonetheless, at least one member of the Jewish community went beyond Twitter and invited the B&A co-owner to discuss the issues surrounding BDS. In his email, the community member included a link to an article by Alan Dershowitz that was published by Haaretz, called “Ten reasons why BDS is immoral and hinders peace.” It can be found on the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs’ website.
While the brewmaster may contend, as he implies in his statement, that he was a victim of “[t]he silencing that occurs daily via the repetition of the dominant narrative,” what he really experienced was disagreement with his beliefs and a resulting effect on his business. He was not silenced. He voluntarily chose to exit a discussion he started.
In Canada, thankfully, the freedom to speak one’s mind comes with the freedom of others to criticize the views that come from that mind. Such discussions are healthy and can even be enjoyable – especially over a nice cup of coffee.