By Jenni Frazer/JNS.org
In August 2012, a Christian and a Jew bumped into each other in Brighton, the languid seaside resort on Britain’s south coast that has become the hub of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) protests at the local Ecostream store. The Israeli-owned shop has attracted weekly demonstrations from the BDS crowd, angry that products made over the Green Line should be sold in the United Kingdom.
Simon Cobbs, a passionate Zionist who had lived in Israel for three years by the time he was 17, was walking past the Ecostream store when he spotted BDS demonstrators inside the shop. By chance, the man who lived in the apartment upstairs was Daniel Laurence, an equally passionate Christian Zionist. Cobbs and Laurence, like bouncers, threw the BDS demonstrators out. “Then we turned to each other and said, see you next week? I’ll bring some friends,” says Cobbs.
BDS scored a notable victory in London when sustained protests in the center of the capital forced the Israeli cosmetics store, Ahava, to close down in the summer of 2011. But in Brighton, a different narrative emerged. It was what local pro-Israel activist Dr. Winston Pickett describes as a moment from the movie “Network,” when famed British-born actor Peter Finch says, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more.”
Sussex Friends of Israel (SFI), born from that first accidental meeting between Cobbs and Laurence, has grown so successful that it has employed a part-time director, Neil Duncanson. The group now has 6,200 “likes” on Facebook and 1,200 followers on Twitter. Most of its supporters are local Jews, often people who had dropped out of mainstream activities, but who were galvanized by the anti-Ecostream protests that have frequently degenerated into anti-Semitic rhetoric and abuse. At least four grandmothers make regular appearances on the picket lines. SFI’s calling card has been most successful when—candidly—it has mocked the BDS protesters with cheerful humor and a friendly local saxophonist playing for the entertainment of Brighton’s Saturday shoppers.
While the BDS movement tries to hit Israel in the wallet, SFI’s anti-BDS efforts hone in on the stomach. A recent SFI campaign has been the “Pies Against Lies” initiative. Others have been “Cakes Against Hate” and “Bagels Against Bigotry.”