Singing against Israel’s apartheid

August 2, 2010

NEW YORK--Fifty protesters commemorated the fifth anniversary of the boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against companies that support Israel's war and occupation of Palestinian lands on July 11 by gathering in lower Manhattan for a singalong protest led by the Palestinian solidarity group Adalah.

Protesters at the small but spirited action were energized by the momentum the BDS campaign gathering across the globe. In June, San Francisco dockworkers joined their counterparts in Sweden, Turkey and India by refusing to unload a ship carrying merchandise from Israel. Musician Elvis Costello recently canceled an upcoming tour in the nation, citing the "intimidation and humiliation" faced by Palestinians civilians "in the name of national security."

Public awareness over the issue has increased in recent months after the unprovoked attack by Israeli commandos on a boat delivering humanitarian aid to Gaza, in which nine activists were killed. The massacre was a firsthand illustration to those involved in the solidarity movement of what Palestinians face daily.

Starting at Houston Street and Sixth Avenue, Adalah members and supporters marched to Aroma Coffee Shop, a franchise that operates in an illegal settlement in the occupied West Bank. Planted "customers" stormed out of Aroma, loudly proclaiming that it was under boycott.

Activists broke into song and dance, with back-up vocal accompaniment provided by fellow boycotters. In unison, the crowd sang "Caught in a Bad Café," sung to the tune of "Caught in a Bad Romance" by Lady Gaga. The refrain went, "I want a coffee and a scone on the side / but not at the cost of apartheid."

Plenty of would-be customers hesitated and withdrew from Aroma's door as a result of the collective spectacle. The song was inspired by the re-appropriation of the Lady Gaga lyrics this May by supporters of Hyatt hotel workers in San Francisco.

From Aroma, the group marched to other locations, singing and picketing businesses that provide material and financial support to the blockade of Gaza and the occupation of the West Bank. The businesses included Ricky's, which sells Ahava products, made with mineral resources from the Dead Sea, and Best Buy, which carries products by Motorola, a company that also provides communications infrastructure and surveillance systems to the occupiers.

The climax of the afternoon was a picket at the confection store Max Brenner. A hot spot for tourists, the chocolate store/restaurant is owned by Strauss Group, Israel's second-largest food and beverage company, which has adopted the Golani and Givati Brigades and claims to "sweeten" the Israeli Army's "special moments."

Below the smiling bald-headed man who is the chain's emblem, the assembled sang a rendition of "The Oompa-Loompa Song" from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory that went:

What do you get when a cho-co-late store
Collaborates in crimes of war?
Feeding an army that kills and maims
We know exactly who's to blame;
Chocolate by the bald man.

The responses from bystanders varied. Some onlookers were indifferent, but the majority was curious, took Adalah's literature and read it. A few isolated individuals called the protesters Nazis, but their rants were overshadowed by the boycotters' songs of peace and justice.

The protesters drew attention to what life is like for those under Israeli occupation and showed customers how supporting businesses that support Israel perpetuates and validates the subjugation of Palestinians. Boycotting alone won't bring an end to Israeli's apartheid, but it shows that the world is watching and hits the colonizers where they feel it--their bank accounts.

Further Reading

From the archives