Tahini maker hit with Arab Israeli boycott over support for gays sees sales rise

Tahini maker hit with Arab Israeli boycott over support for gays sees sales rise

Nazareth-based Al Arz gets a boost from social media activists after donating to LGBT youth support line, drawing local ire

Al Arz Tahini. (Courtesy)
Al Arz Tahini. (Courtesy)

An Arab Israeli tahini maker that faced a boycott call from the community after it donated funds to an LGBT support line has seen its sales spike despite the embargo, apparently due to backing from other Israelis.

Al Arz Tahini saw its market share increase by nearly 28 percent in the week after the boycott was started, the Calcalist financial website reported Tuesday.

Al Arz, based in the northern city of Nazareth, is one of Israel’s largest producers of the popular sesame paste, making an estimated one-fifth of the country’s commercially sold tahini.

The company had announced on June 1 plans to fund a crisis hotline for LGBT youth with The Aguda – The Association for LGBTQ Equality in Israel. In response, some in the Arab community called for a boycott of the company’s products, though others expressed support.

Videos appeared on social media showing Arab Israeli shoppers and store owners throwing containers of Al Arz tahini in the garbage in protest of the company’s decision, which some Muslim religious leaders criticized.

Alongside calls for a boycott, however, were Arab and Jewish Israelis who pushed back with expressions of support for the LGBT community on social media. Some Arab Israeli politicians also came out against the boycott – albeit without directly naming the LGBT community.

During the week of July 12-18 the company’s sales increased by 27.6% compared to the week before, the Calcalist report said, citing data from StoreNext, a market analysis venture.

At the end of June Al Arz’s market share was 16.9%. During the first week of July it climbed to 18.5% and the following week to 22.6%.

News of the Al Arz donation and ensuing divestment also appeared to drive up tahini sales in general, the report found, with tahini purchases increasing during the beginning of July.

Nonetheless, Al Arz has seen a noticeable drop in orders in the Arab community, just as the Muslim world prepares to mark the festival of Eid al-Adha, which begins at the end of the month.

Al Arz has also been impacted by the coronavirus outbreak with a fall in local sales and exports to the United States, according to the report.

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,” the company said in a statement earlier this month. And so do we. We will continue to be an open house and empower disadvantaged sectors whatever they may be,” the statement stressed.

Ayman Safiah (Courtesy)

While many Arab Israelis are socially conservative, LGBT Arab Israelis have slowly been taking a more prominent role. The funeral of Ayman Safiah, a renowned Arab Israeli dancer who drowned this May, drew thousands of mourners despite his queer identity.

On Sunday, a member of the Joint List called the predominantly Arab political party’s leader’s support for a recent bill banning so-called conversion therapy “particularly problematic,” and stated that it went against the views of “the vast majority of the society that elected him.”

In an interview with national broadcaster Kan, MK Walid Taha denied the existence of any significant homosexual demographic within the Arab community, asserting that the “phenomenon of gays is almost nonexistent in Arab society” and adding that, if it exists at all, it is “of limited dimensions.”

“The issue is not being discussed in Arab society” and “if it exists it is on a very small scale and those who suffer from it are in no hurry to identify themselves,” he stated, adding that he believed same-sex relations to be unnatural.

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