Yesterday, on the last day of Passover, protesters surrounded the doors of Zabar’s—the iconic Upper West Side grocer famous for its knishes and lox—to demand the store stop selling the carbonated beverage maker SodaStream. The roughly 40 protesters, carrying guitars and signs decrying “Apartheid Soda,” represented a coalition of volunteers from Adalah-NY (meaning “justice” in Arabic), Jewish Voice for Peace, and members of the failed initiative to boycott Israeli products at the Park Slope Co-Op.
Some of Zabar’s customers appeared unaffected while others were clearly annoyed at the ruckus. “Go to hell, anti-Semites!” shouted one customer as he left the store, hoisting a SodaStream, an Israeli soda making device made in a factory in Maale Adumin, a suburb of Jerusalem. “You all go to hell!”
Alana Krivo-Kaufman, a representative from Jewish Voices for Peace, says protesters deliberately chose to target Zabar’s for a boycott because it has strong ties to the Jewish community. “Zabar’s is a beloved institution by those of us on the Upper West Side. They have a history of being a community influence,” she said.
But Pam Sporn, a BDS advocate, tried to deny the protest was anti-Israel. “There’s nothing in the BDS call that’s anti-Semitic,” she said, “There’s no hate speech. There’s no accusations at any individual Jewish person. I’m Jewish.” However, she also said her objection to Israel extended beyond the settlements and to the entire state of Israel. “Personally, I have a problem with any state being for any one religion or one group of people,” she said.
“Idiocy,” said Joe Steiner, a customer who said he’s been shopping at Zabar’s for 15 years. “This product is made in the West Bank. If it weren’t for them, those Palestinians would be starving. SodaStream pays them more than Hamas can. It’s good. This is ridiculous.”
Erica Gerson wasn’t shopping at Zabar’s today. But she crossed the street to speak out against the protest. “My understanding is that SodaStream is good for Jewish and non-Jewish relations,” she said, “They pay Jews and non-Jews the same wages. They provide employment. And what could be better than working side by side?”
The protesters “are either crazy, anti-Semitic, or ill-informed,” she said, “If I didn’t own a SodaStream already I’d go in and buy another one.”
Protesters said they’ve had almost no response from store owner Saul Zabar. Naomi Brussel, a protester, said Zabar ignored multiple letters and requests for meetings, but that he once came outside to observe an earlier protest (yesterday’s protest was their third).
“We asked him why he didn’t meet with us and he said, ‘I didn’t think you were worth it,’” Brussel said.
Inside the store, management said Zabar’s won’t be banning SodaStream—or any other Israeli products—any time soon.
“No plans for any of that,” a representative said brusquely, “We sell food. We don’t do politics.”