With a public donation to an LGBT charity, a tahini company ignited a debate about LGBT rights among Arab Israelis.
Al Arz Tahini faced both calls for boycott and expressions of support from Arab Israelis after donating to an LGBT rights organization. The company announced on June 1 plans to fund a crisis hotline for LGBT youth with The Aguda – The Association for LGBTQ Equality in Israel.
Al Arz, based in the northern city of Nazareth, is one of Israel’s largest producers of the popular sesame spread, making an estimated one-fifth of the country’s commercially sold tahini.
There have been several videos on social media in recent days of Arab Israeli shoppers and store owners throwing containers of Al Arz Tahini in the trash in protest of the company’s decision to help set up an LGBT helpline, which some religious leaders have criticized.
Alongside calls for boycott, however, some Arab Israelis pushed back with expressions of support for the LGBT community on social media.
“Glass half full – we’re talking about the gay community! After years of marginalization and denial of the LGBT community’s existence in our villages and among our friends. It’s an amazing step,” Arabic teacher Hanin Majadli wrote on Facebook.
While many Arab Israelis are socially conservative, LGBT Arab Israelis have slowly been taking a more prominent role. The funeral of Ayman Safiya, a renowned Arab Israeli dancer who drowned this May, drew thousands of mourners despite his queer identity.
Responding to the boycott calls, Al Arz doubled down on its support of the LGBT community.
“We in the Al Arz Tahini family love people without differentiation between religion, sex, gender or color. Food connects people. And so do we. We will continue to be an open house and empower disadvantaged sectors whatever they may be,” the statement stressed.
Some Arab Israeli politicians also came out against the boycott – albeit without directly naming the LGBT community.
Joint List party chairman Ayman Odeh claimed Thursday in a Facebook post that the campaign against Al Arz was being led by its competitors, “both Jewish and Arab.” He said it was “hypocritical to boycott Al Arz while ignoring Israeli companies that are proud supporters of the settlements and the army.”