Israelis launch kosher boycott

Campaign to hit extremists in the pocket by avoiding their hechsher gains steam

By Nathan Jeffay, October 7, 2010
Strictly  Orthodox men demonstrate in Jerusalem against the moving of tombs in Ashkelon in May

Strictly Orthodox men demonstrate in Jerusalem against the moving of tombs in Ashkelon in May

A boycott campaign is mounting against Israel's most prestigious kosher certification.

With dozens of different kashrut seals available in Israel, hechsher snobbery is rife. Not everyone accepts every supervision label and some engender more loyalty than others. However, virtually everybody regards "Badatz Eida Hacharedit" stamp as the gold standard, and those conscious of kashrut widely strive to buy most of their products with a Badatz seal.

But despite Badatz's widespread appeal, it is operated by the small and extremist Eida Charedit. This Charedi umbrella organisation is avowedly anti-Zionist and discourages members from involvement with the state of Israel, including voting.

In the past year, its members have led demonstrations - some of which turned violent - against the opening of a car park in Jerusalem on Shabbat, against the operation of Intel's Jerusalem plant on Shabbat, and against the construction of a new emergency room at Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon on the grounds that it requires the relocation of ancient graves.

When the Barzilai row was at its height in the spring, Micky Lapid, a secular pensioner from Even Yehuda near Netanya, started an online campaign for a boycott of the Badatz kosher certification.

It’s a very small group, but where is the money coming from?

"My anger [towards the Eida] spread from my belly to my head and from my head to the screen," he recalls.

His intention was to bring about a situation where companies see commercial disadvantages as well as advantages in taking Badatz supervision. Currently it is seen only as a plus - the Israeli food giant Osem has the seal on almost all of its products.

"I said to myself, this group called the Eida Charedit, with all this noise around it, it's a very small group but where is the money come from? If some people want to pay through their food for their services that's fine, but don't ask me to be part of it."

Since he launched his campaign in May, it has attracted 2,000 followers on Facebook and a further 600 sympathisers who subscribe to its email newsletters, which contain lists of products to boycott and suggestions for non-Badatz alternatives. A poll conducted by the Ynet news site and the Gesher Foundation has found that one in three secular Israelis favour the idea of a boycott.

While Mr Lapid is secular, the campaign has the support of some Orthodox consumers - both modern-Orthodox and a small number of Charedim.

"My children know when they are looking for candy to buy the one without the Eida Charedit hechsher," says Catriel Lev, a modern Orthodox father-of-five from Beit Shemesh. There, followers of the Eida hang signs demanding "modest dress" and sometimes harangue people who fail to adhere.

Mr Lev hopes that the boycott will "put the Eida Charedit back to the proportions of its real clientele".

But Shlomo Pappenheim, a senior member of the Eida's management committee, said that the boycott campaign is based on "ignorance". He said that money from kashrut "does not go for all these fights - that money comes from abroad, from people who believe in it."

He added that this money does not pass through the Eida's coffers but goes straight to demonstrators.

Last updated: 4:17pm, October 7 2010