It was a cold September day, as I for the very first time, stood outside Ecostream (the Israeli-based Sodastream store) with an Israeli flag and pro-Israel leaflets, unsure of what was going to happen, in front of a chanting and noisy crowd, armed with Palestinian flags.
I had heard about this shop which was being picketed by the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement every week, and decided to go along to see what I could do to help. This was the first time I had ever gone to a demonstration like this, as was the case for a number of the pro-Israel supporters who had turned out in support of the store.
We were small in comparison to the other group, which was part of a world-wide movement who wished to isolate Israel and make it a pariah state, accusing it of all kinds of crimes, (regardless of whether their claims were true or not and, judging by their chants, we started to realise they wanted the actual and total destruction of Israel.) The picket has gone on for just over a year now… but what a year it has been!
The pro-Israel counter- demonstration began when a few Jewish and Christian individuals, in September 2012, decided that the Ecostream picket was the last straw after 10- 15 years of the BDS deciding that Brighton was theirs, and they had spent those years harassing and intimidating the public. (It is only now that we hear the fallout of their bullying tactics and intimidation and aggression from individuals who have related to us their own fear and anger of the BDS’ previous free reign in their city.) In the midst of adversity, Sussex Friends of Israel was born! It’s aim is to counter the BDS at every turn, to stop the lies and hatred of Israel being disseminated every week outside Ecostream. We give out pro-Israel leaflets which counter their propaganda, sing Jewish and pro-Israel songs in reply to their own screams and chants.
We started a Facebook page, which has rocketed to over 2,000 Likes in just a few short months. We received hundreds of goodwill messages ranging from a surprising number of Israeli embassies abroad, and the Knesset, to small B&BS in Israel!
Every year, Sussex University in Brighton holds an “Israel Apartheid Week” with seminars given by pro-Palestinian lecturers. We have made a point of attending these seminars, challenging what is being said, and trying to bring the truth into the situation.
From countering the BDS demonstration outside the theatre where the Israeli dance group Batsheva was performing, to organising petitions against the BDS-led pressure on the Co-Operative Supermarket to extend their Israeli settlement boycott to the whole of Israel, SFI is becoming a driving force in Brighton and in other towns in Sussex are now very slowly being reached by SFI. The people who make up SFI were not originally activists; we are members of the Jewish, Christian and non-religious communities, young and old. We have no institution behind us. We print leaflets, have Bagels Against Bigotry days where we come together to eat and party, while the other side rant and hate, and we are constantly coming up with new ideas to counter the BDS. We face insults, and vilification from some certain members the public but many others support us.
We have grown into a close, ever-expanding group whose aim is quite simple: to counter the lies of the BDS and to share the truth about Israel. What the future holds, we all are genuinely excited to find out!