by Mona Young
Before Sussex Friends of Israel was created, the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement was well-known in Brighton UK. They had been protesting against Israeli goods for years, targeting different shops – from supermarkets to smaller stores.
When Ecostream, a “Green”/Refill/Ecologically-friendly shop, (part of Sodastream, an Israeli-based company) opened in September 2012, it was met with a picket by BDS activists, shouting, and screeching through a megaphone. It was the noise being made, that drew two men, (Simon Cobbs, – a Jewish man, and Daniel Laurence
a Christian) to the shop to see what was happening. Not being able to believe the hatred and bigotry directed at one shop, especially antiIsrael lies expressed so viciously, Cobbs and Laurence went back to their own communities and told them what was going on down at Ecostream, both resolving to do something.
The following week, both men went to Ecostream again, each with a group of friends, and the group that became known as Sussex Friends of Israel quickly began to grow. People of all ages: Jewish, Christian, and other, and members of the LGBT community started to turn out in support started to turn out in support, and pro-Israel leaflets were distributed. Sussex Friends of Israel was “officially” born in January 2013, becoming a registered organisation, with a director and “board” of both Jewish and Christian members. Locally, SFI goes to anti-Israel seminars at universities and speaks up for Israel as much as possible. SFI has also presented a petition to the UK store Co-op which boycotts settlement products.
In July and September, “Bagels against Bigotry” Street Party was launched in response to the BDS march/demonstration called “National Day of Action/Day of Rage” against Ecostream.
Bagels against Bigotry included a huge array of smoked salmon bagels, cakes, Israeli food, and Jewish cuisine. The public enjoyed themselves, and when the BDS march arrived at Ecostream, the police prevented them from standing outside, and soon after, directed them to the opposite side of the road. Meanwhile, Ecostream reported it had broken its record for a day’s trading since the shop opened!
In December, Cakes against Hate was launched, a belated “Chanukah and Christmas” themed street party with cake and biscuits, Father Christmas and street music. It certainly was a festive occasion!
When SFI Facebook was revamped in September 2013, within 4 months, our following increased from 252 to over 3,000 Likes. So far, 50 countries have responded to SFI in support in various ways, and our average audience is approximately 50,000 a week, with a picture of one of our supporters once reaching 140,000 views. The Israeli Knesset gave moral support, as did 12 other Israeli Embassies in various other countries.
In January 2014, when a replica of Israel’s security barrier was erected around St. James’ Church in Piccadilly, London UK, in what many have called “an anti-Israel stunt” the majority of SFI got on the train to London after the usual Ecostream demonstration, to stand with the other pro-Israel organisations, with flags and leaflets, and countered a simultaneous anti-Israel protest.
What is incredible with SFI is that none of us have been activists before! We were simply residents of Sussex who had enough of hatred toward Israel.
We at SFI literally have no idea what will happen in 2014. Last year was a non-stop rollercoaster of a ride – defying self- expectations and our opponent’s expectations! We hope 2014 will do the same!