"Local activists urge boycott of Israel"
THE ARAB AMERICAN NEWS
Friday, August 1, 2008
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ANN ARBOR — A small group of tenacious Ann Arbor activists have been staging weekly local demonstrations against what they call apartheid in Israel, imploring institutions like the People's Food Co-op to boycott the Jewish state.
Two protestors even made appearances at recent Dearborn School Board meetings, in an effort to encourage Arab Americans to more actively and openly assert themselves on both domestic and international human rights issues.
Activist Blaine Coleman said the group was inspired to appear at the meetings when hundreds of Arab Americans organized and appeared at a May meeting in defense of a high school principal who was facing accusations — which were later withdrawn — of assaulting a student.
"It's been proven that hundreds of Dearborn students and parents will mobilize themselves to defend their rights," Coleman said.
Coleman and fellow activist Mozhgan Savabi appeared at that meeting and two others, carrying large signs that read "Boycott Israel." They intended to speak at the meetings, but were prevented from doing so because, officials said, they did not submit requests to comment at the proper time during the meetings.
Coleman and Savabi feel they were purposely prevented from speaking because of their message.
The group has protested in front of the People's Food Co-op in Ann Arbor on many weekends, because the grocery store sells some products made in Israel.
"I'm Jewish incidentally. I'm horrified at Israel," said protestor Marcia Federbush, 74, during one demonstration in front of the store.
Federbush said she became outraged at Israeli practices in the occupied Palestinian territories after reading several books on the subject including Jimmy Carter's "Peace Not Apartheid."
"I was extremely upset about the way we were behaving in Iraq in 2003. And I started hearing talk about how Israel treated the Palestinians," she said about first becoming involved in the boycott movement.
Some passersby during the weekly protests said the group can sometimes seem overzealous and counterproductive.
"You can't create dialogue with people if the only way is to be adversarial," said local college instructor Sam Rosewig.
He said some signs the group has carried in the past have been overly inflammatory, associating the Star of David with a swastika.
"The only time I see people move toward accepting other people is when they are listened to first," he said.
"If holding a cardboard sign that says boycott Israel is too much," said Coleman in response. "Than what are you supposed to do? Palestinian rights demand that we yell for boycotting the racist state of Israel… You cannot tune your voice to please Palestine haters."
Operations Manager of the Co-op Derek Kiesgen said the issue of boycotting Israeli products was brought to members for a vote, and that it was voted down. He believes the group made their point and should move on.
"We only sell three Israeli products," he said.
Kiesgen said the group should protest at a federal building of some sort, "not a three-aisle grocery store."
"I think everyone's now more against them if they were for them in the beginning."
He said in the past they held signs that read "F___ Israel," but that they have since "toned it down."
He also said he's had to call police on several occasions because of complaints protesters were cornering and yelling at people.
"We would be in prison right now if we cornered anyone," Coleman said. "If you value Palestinian life at such a low level, than you will come up with these excuses."
He did not deny carrying ‘F___ Israel" signs, saying a U.S. Supreme Court decision protects his right to do so.
"If you hide your outrage," said Savabi, "people will think Palestine isn’t very important."
She said for as long as people have been trying to be subtle about protesting U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, things have gotten worse in the region.
"It used to be just Palestine and Lebanon. Now it's Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Iran… We're dignified people. How long before we say enough is enough?" she said.
"We're getting old and we're dying so if we don't get help from young people, we're in trouble," said Savabi, 49.
Coleman said one main goal of their efforts is to generate news coverage "that will embolden them to fight for a boycott of the racist state of Israel."