US/World News

Arab Israeli company that donated money to LGBT rights group faces boycott

(JTA) – An Arab Israeli-owned tahini company is facing a backlash after its owner donated to an Israeli LGBT rights group. Julia Zaher, who owns Al Arz tahini, made a “significant” donation to a rights group called Aguda to create a hotline for Arabic-speaking LGBT Israelis. After Aguda, tweeted appreciation in Arabic and in Hebrew, some Arabs called for a boycott of the popular brand, which produces more than 20 tons of the sesame paste daily in its Nazareth plants. Videos posted to social media showed some shopkeepers trashing Al Arz products.

The Israeli news organization Israel Hayom first reported the story and an extensive story in The New York Times and detailed it for a global audience. Al Arz tahini is distributed globally, with its adherents including the popular Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi.

“We have values that we follow,” Jabr Hejazi, one of the supermarket owners participating in the boycott, told the NY Times. “It’s a simple matter.” 

The boycott is actually generating needed support for gay and transgender members of the Arab community, Arab LGBT activists told the newspaper. But Zaher is also under fire for donating to an Israeli rights group, rather than a Palestinian one. Aguda advocates for all LGBT people in Israel, regardless of their religion or ethnicity.

And a Palestinian group, the Al Qaws for Sexual and Gender Diversity in Palestinian Society, has criticized the New York Times for “eras(ing) Palestinian queer organizations” in its coverage. The reporter who wrote the story, Adam Rasgon, responded that the group’s executive director had declined to comment until he promised not to include Israeli Jews in the article. “Such constraints on the independence of our reporting are unacceptable,” he tweeted.

Main Photo: Al Arz tahini displayed in the window of an Ottolenghi cafe in London in 2018. (Ottolenghi Islington Facebook)

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