Boycott Kedem: how Palestine activists are taking on an Israeli firm in Manchester

Gez Butterworth from Manchester Palestine Action reports how a campaign to shut down a city centre cosmetics shop has helped build a wider solidarity movement.

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Kedem Cosmetics is a franchise based on King Street in Manchester. It exclusively stocks produce from the Dead Sea, an area from which Palestinians are barred and whose resources they cannot access.

The Israeli government also owns a sizable share of Kedem’s parent company, Israeli Chemicals Limited, which has contributed massively to the environmental destruction of the Dead Sea. Politically or environmentally, Kedem Cosmetics is a worthy target.

On 19 July a small group of activists succeeded in closing down Kedem – simply by standing outside it with some Palestinian flags. The next day a dozen activists returned, with the same outcome.

Soon this became a daily picket, attracting friends, fellow activists and concerned members of the public to hand out fliers to the public and promote the boycott and information about the situation in Palestine. Boycott Kedem is currently on its 32nd day.

For many, horrified by Israel’s latest actions in Gaza, this protest has been their first experience of campaigning or direct action. Leaflets, banners and support were acquired through favours, dedication and ingenuity.

Prestige and credibility

Palestinian civil society organisations first called for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel in 2005. Since then BDS has gained traction, growing from a relatively fringe idea at its inception to an established movement.

Thirty million dollars in lost contracts over nine years may be a drop in the ocean for Israel, which receives $8.5 million in military aid from the US per day. But it is the loss of prestige and credibility that Israel fears.

Our protest has encountered well organised opposition, which came as a surprise to some of us. On the fourth day our group arrived to find shop staff distributing flyers comparing us to Nazis.

Speakers from Jews for Justice for Palestine at our picket were called “traitors” and “thugs”. Members of our picket were told to “go back to their own country”. The Manchester Evening News ran a scare story claiming that “extremists have been intimidating the public”.

Engaging with the public

This backlash highlighted an important issue. Demonisation and smear tactics are all that Israel’s supporters have to rely on. The public reaction to our picket has, in contrast, been extremely supportive. Local MP Gerald Kaufman has also voiced his support for our actions.

We instigated a policy of non-engagement with the Zionist counter-demo and instead focused on engaging with the public. Our intention was always to raise awareness about Gaza and BDS. The counter-protest and backlash, in contrast, was designed to sidetrack us.

As for Kedem, things are not looking good for them. Takings have plummeted and it has had to resort to heavy discount offers and freebies to get people through the door. Our immediate aim is to stay until Kedem has closed down. But we know that building a movement depends on more than the fate of one overpriced soap shop.

We intend to spread our focus to other targets of the BDS movement, including Barclays and Sainsbury’s. We also intend to join our allies in London Palestine Action with further direct action.

• For more information on Manchester Palestine Action visit their Facebook page

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