Anti-Israel boycott at shoe store suspended; one protest group calls other 'racist'
Published Thursday, January 27, 2011 7:25PM EST
Quebec Solidaire leader Amir Khadir walks to a news conference where they announced a common front on the Caisse de Depot, Friday, May 29, 2009 at the Quebec legislature. (Jacques Boissinot / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
MONTREAL - The boycott of a shoestore that sells footwear made in Israel, which attracted national attention, has been temporarily called off by organizers worried it's become a magnet for extremists.
The independently owned store, Le Marcheur, was dragged into the mire of Middle East politics when a group called Palestinian and Jewish Unity (PAJU) began protesting outside its doors every Saturday several months ago.
The group is hoping a boycott will encourage the owner to stop selling BeautiFeel, a line of women's shoes made in Israel.
Its actions triggered an angry backlash by several prominent Montreal figures, including both Liberal and Conservative politicians. But it's one of the boycott supporters that has PAJU worried.
The Mouvement Nationaliste-Revolutionnaire Quebecois -- or, in English, the Nationalist Revolutionary Movement of Quebec -- announced plans recently to join the weekly protest.
PAJU accuses the rival group of advocating racism, anti-immigrant beliefs and revolutionary violence.
"We are not going to permit extreme-right elements to promote their own racist agenda," said PAJU's president, Bruce Katz. "We're certainly not going to let them discredit our own legitimate actions."
The MNRQ, on its website, calls for an anti-Israel "intifada in Quebec -- just like in Gaza."
The group is anti-capitalist, pro-Quebec independence, and proudly espouses its support for ethnic nationalism -- namely, protecting the "identity and ethnicity of Quebec." It urges a crackdown on immigration.
Katz said when he received word the MNRQ intended to join Saturday's protest, he decided his group needed to take its distance.
He said they will suspend their demonstration for two weeks and eventually re-evaluate the situation.
The store has continued selling the Israeli-made shoes despite an increasingly raucous scene outside the store on Saturdays.
Last weekend, supporters and opponents of the merchant exchanged heated words. A black man who came to support the store owner was reportedly subjected to a racial epithet.
Store owner Yves Archambault said the controversy has changed his business. He has lost some customers, and gained others.
"But it's taking on alarming proportions now," he said.
The prospect of the MNRQ's presence this weekend had Archambault worried about tensions escalating. Police have told him that while PAJU may be stubborn, they are nevertheless pacifists.
Archambault, who has been in business for 25 years, is in the process of buying his stock for next season, and says he has no intention of dropping the BeautiFeel line.
"This is Quebec. No one is going to tell us what to sell," he said.
Pro-Palestinian activists have long advocated a general boycott of goods made in Israel as a way of pressuring the state to end what they describe as apartheid policies in occupied territories.
But even boycott supporters have expressed some reservations about PAJU's decision to target a small, independent merchant.
"In my opinion, it's a mistake to boycott the whole store," said Amir Khadir, a member of the provincial legislature who heads the left-wing provincial party Quebec solidaire.
Khadir attended one of the weekly demonstrations in December, but said he didn't realize at the time that PAJU was blacklisting the whole store, as opposed to just its Israeli products.
"I invite the members of the PAJU to boycott (only) products or large companies," he said. "But you have to give them credit for something: We wouldn't be talking about the boycott campaign if it weren't for their actions."