Counter-boycott push beats back divestment in Sweden

Supermarket chain reverses decision to boycott Israeli products after intense phone and email campaign

A Coop outlet in Sweden (courtesy)
A Coop outlet in Sweden (courtesy)

A Swedish supermarket chain has reversed a decision to boycott Israeli products following a counter-campaign by activists in the Scandinavian country.

Three stores in the Swedish city of Varberg affiliated with the national Coop chain have canceled their embargo on products from Israel. The Varberg Consumer Association had voted in March to impose the boycott, according to Swedish daily Expressen. The decision was made when only 22 of the organization’s 16,000 members were present, Swedish Radio reported.

The stores imposed a boycott of settlement goods four years ago, but were urged by a pro-Palestinian petition to extend that embargo to all Israeli imports.

The vote went unnoticed until it was written about in a local newspaper, the Israeli news site Ynet reported, prompting a strong response from local pro-Israel activists and the Israeli ambassador to Sweden, Isaac Bachman.

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“We didn’t argue on the basis of Israel’s political positions, rather on the basis of fair trade and against discrimination of any country,” Bachman told Ynet.

Activists affiliated with the Swedish Friends of Israel organization, which is mostly composed of non-Jews, put together a call and email campaign threatening to counter-boycott the stores should Israeli products be banned from the shelves. A Facebook page launched by one activist garnered over 2,300 likes.

As the campaign gathered momentum this week, the ambassador met with Coop’s national chairman and asked him to instruct the local outlets to step down from the ban. Afterward, the local consumer board reversed the earlier vote’s decision.

Israeli Ambassador to Sweden Isaac Bachman. (YouTube/Israel's Ambassadors)
Israeli Ambassador to Sweden Isaac Bachman. (YouTube/Israel’s Ambassadors)

“We cannot do much about it,” Kent Wennberg, president of the Varberg Coop, told Expressen before the decision was made to reverse the boycott. Wennberg said it was better to not take any political stances, but he was “bound to what our membership says.”

The success of the campaign instilled a sense of optimism in Ambassador Bachman, who saw the strategic value in the approach used in Varberg.

“They were shocked from the number of responses,” Bachman told Ynet. “It created immense pressure. There was a mass of people that told them they would not buy from them if they boycotted Israel.

“Public opinion worked on our behalf. The Swedish chain saw the flood and understood they needed to deal with it.”

Israeli-Swedish relations have been marred by Sweden’s vote to recognize a Palestinian state late last year. Sweden has also been criticized for not taking the growth of Swedish anti-Semitism more seriously.

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