BDS Makes Its Way to Thornhill

BDS, the “Boycott, Divest and Sanctions” movement designed to politically and economically assail Israel, and by extension Jews world-wide, has finally infiltrated my community of Thornhhill, a bustling suburb immediately North of Toronto.

Yesterday, a image of a tub of Sabra brand hummus circulated through various Jewish community groups on Facebook. The product had a sticker saying BOYCOTT ISRAELI APARTHEID over a Palestinian flag. It was found at one of the larger supermarkets in Thornhill, complete with a Kosher section. There’s a synagogue nearby, and across the street is the largest Jewish high school in Canada.

For those unfamiliar, Thornhill is a former township in the Canadian province of Ontario. Within its boundaries as an electoral district, Thornhill has the highest proportion of Jewish Canadians than any other in the country.

Source: Facebook
Source: Facebook

I’ve really only encountered BDS and anti-Zionism in two places: online, and at York University, neither of which are really localized in my own community (York’s Keele Campus is *technically* across the street, but it’s adjacent to a large industrial area, not residential Thornhill).

Anti-Zionism has reared its ugly head in my area before. In 2009, a socialist group called “Stop The War” held a small protest outside the constituency office of my Member of Parliament (MP), Peter Kent. In 2011, the left-leaning New Democratic Party rescinded the candidacy of Barry Weisleder, a member of the even farther left-leaning NDP Socialist Caucus, a group within the party with an explicitly anti-Israel position about “stopping Israeli Apartheid”, a reference Weisleder made on an online blog that apparently factored into his candidacy being withdrawn.

But this is different. Those episodes were temporary. The protestors went home, and Weisleder lives in downtown Toronto, at least a 40-minute drive from Thornhill. However, a sticker on a tub of hummus, and the BDS campaign associated with it are more local. It’s a local tentacle of the larger global movement to target Israel, a method of which would be going into Jewish areas and employing these petty tactics of intimidation against Jews in their own neighbourhoods.

That is, until the assailants become more emboldened, and the acts become less and less petty, as Canadian Jewry is watching happen in suburban Europe.

The political climate in Canada and Ontario is generally very supportive of the Jewish community. BDS has been repudiated on both levels of government, Jewish legislators make sure to advocate on behalf of their constituents, and Jewish advocacy groups enjoy comfortable government relations.

However, that’s the “air game”. In my Jewish community, we have a relatively weak “ground game”. It’s hard to get Jewish adults to solidarity rallies. Apathy and avoidance of political involvement of Jewish students is the bane of campus activists. When a store carrying Soda Stream products in Toronto is targeted by BDS agitators, we don’t exactly flock to it to show our support.

This needs to change. It needs to become part of contemporary Jewish culture in the diaspora to advocate for Israel and play your part. Get involved with a Jewish non-profit that combats anti-Semitism on the (literally) retail level. Talk about these issues with your children. Attend pro-Israel rallies and solidarity demonstrations. If you’re a student, simply get in contact with your grassroots pro-Israel student club. When a store is being targeted by BDS, make the effort to buy from them.

We might not be able to stop individuals from putting stickers on Israeli products. But, we can absolutely show that the Jewish community in Thornhill and Toronto are pro-Israel to the point that we will get up and fight back. We can send a clear message that anti-Semitism of any kind will not be tolerated.

It’s time to get tough, and we need to be vigilant. In 2016, in our free and democratic society, here we are, still needing to watch our backs. Its unfortunate, but we can either gripe about it, or we can all get serious.

About the Author
Willem Hart is a social science and Jewish studies student at York University in Toronto. He is an active member in the pro-Israel scene, and a lifelong disabilities service worker and advocate.