This Saturday, June 20, was World Refugee Day, and what better occasion, thought some groups, to vandalize stores carrying Israeli products?
The vandalism is known as “deshelving,” where protestors ruin products from Israel by stealing them, smashing them, pouring ketchup over them or placing “Free Palestine” and “End Apartheid” stickers on them. The effort was begun by non-Arab anti-Israel extremists targeting branches of large retailer Tesco in the United Kingdom. The practice has since spread into France and now to the United States.
Until now, the effort in America mainly involved boycotts and handing out anti-Israel flyers at the entrances to stores like Trader Joe's and Whole Foods. But on Saturday, some groups, most notably Adalah-NY, The Coalition for Justice in the Middle East and the Bay Area Campaign to End Israeli Apartheid, took their anger to the next level in cities across the country, including Pittsburgh.
Some people refused to let that happen.
Joshua Wander, a Pittsburgh resident and co-organizer of the National Day to Buy Israeli Products, began a push to get people to come to Trader Joe’s and buy Israeli products to pre-empt the protesters.
“I went twice on Friday,” Wander said, “once in the morning and bought as much as I could, then again in the afternoon. When I came back in the afternoon, almost all the Israeli goods were sold.”
Just after he left, an act of vandalism occurred.
“My friend arrived at Trader Joe's a few minutes after I left and saw someone poured ketchup over some Israeli products in a freezer and put a 'Free Palestine' sticker on it,” Wander said.
In anticipation of the vandalism, Trader Joe’s ordered extra security for its Pittsburgh branch on Saturday, but the company said it wouldn’t change its purchasing practices in response to the protests.
“We don't use our products based on politics and we refuse to take any of our products off the shelves based on pressure from any one group,” said Alison Mochizuki, a spokesperson for Trader Joe's.
And why should they? “This has been good for them,” said Zachary Novetsky, another organizer of the counterprotest in Boston. “People are spending a lot of money at Trader Joe's because of this.”
Deborah Fidel, executive director of the Pittsburgh Area Jewish Committee, said none of the products the boycotters were opposed to come from West Bank or Gaza. They are all from Israel proper.
“This is a boycott of Israel,” she said, “not [of] the occupation.”
(Derek Kwait can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)