J. Rivkah Asoulin of Ancient Roots Israel. (screenshot/courtesty) (screenshot/courtesty
J. Rivkah Asoulin of Ancient Roots Israel.

“You cannot have anything to do with Israel or be Israeli,” the president of an industry group told the event’s organizer, who held her ground in the face of blatant discrimination.

By Tsivya Fox-Dobuler

Israel’s first-ever grassroots, English-language herbal conference for the international community was nearly cancelled after Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activists threatened some of the top speakers, who pulled out of the event under extraordinary pressure. “Ancient Roots Israel” is still expected to take place from February 9-11 in Tiberias, overlooking the Sea of Galilee, through the determination of its organizer.

“I started Ancient Roots Israel as a love letter for my people in Israel,” J. Rivkah Asoulin, founder and executive director of the conference, told United With Israel (UWI). “Israel has excellent herbalists spearheading herbal innovations and doing outstanding work in herbal medicine and its a shame that the international community is unaware of that. It seemed to me that a conference like this is a no-brainer  The goal of the conference is to unite herbalists worldwide, in English, to share their knowledge and expertise in a cross cultural and dynamic, non-political way.”

Yet, this grassroots conference raised the ire of BDS activists, who pressured some of its top speakers to pull out at the last minute.

“We never imagined that BDS would threaten and bully herbalists to get them to not participate in the conference,” Asoulin said. “We don’t have financial backers. I’ve paid for advertising and flyers out of my own money with the hopes of attracting at least 50 participants to break even. Now, none of that advertising material can be used because some headliners folded under threats from BDS.”

The conference did receive a congratulatory video from the president of the American Herbalists Guild (AHG), an organization that represents the gold-standard for herbalist certification worldwide.

AHG president Bevin Clare, however, retracted permission to use a video. “She ate dinner at my home in Israel, with my family, and explained why it could not be used to promote the conference,” Asoulin told UWI. “She said she received a lot of hate mail because of it.”

Shocked by the sudden turn of events, Asoulin asked Clare what she can do to get her support back. “You cannot have anything to do with Israel or be Israeli,” Clare replied, according to Asoulin. “This is about Israel. It’s not about you.”

BDS Bullies

In fact, BDS efforts by AHG staff member and publication editor-in-chief Shabina Lafleur-Gangji forced the head speakers to remove themselves from participating in the event.

Lafleur-Gangji proudly took credit on social media for stymieing the conference. In a Facebook post on January 3, she wrote, “I am someone who *absolutely* stands behind the BDS movement…We decided something needed to happen and reached out to the herbalists involved. Within 24 hours they both made the decision to retract their support for the conference in solidarity with folks in living under … Israeli apartheid…I want to thank Bevin Clare and Sevensong for being willing to listen and learn.”

She later added that herbalist Danny O’Rawe also pulled out and gave “appreciation for all the folks who have worked hard” to boycott Israel.

Lafleur-Gangji ended her post, “Also shout out to Badee Dwaik for the beautiful keffiyeh.”

Dwaik lives in Hebron and has been arrested nearly two-dozen times for his anti-Israel protests.

False Code of Ethics

In AHG’s “Code of Ethics Policy,” it states, “The American herbalist community is diverse, united and guided by a strong sense of values and ethics in herbal practice and education.”

“All the speakers who pulled out of the conference because of BDS pressure and are AHG members know that Shabina was behind the bullying and threats because they were tagged in her Facebook post,” Asoulin said. “It’s very troubling and deeply concerning that she appears to have abused her position of power to target the organizations’ members. Why is she still on staff?”

Asoulin stressed to UWI that “herbalists are concerned with people and plants, not with politics. The choice of targeting our non-commercial, non-political activity, and thus trying to stop herbalists from gathering to further their knowledge of ways to improve the lives and health of people around the world, is indeed troubling and unethical.”

In addition to hoping that people will join the conference, Asoulin would like AHG to take a “definitive action against Shabina Lafleur-Gangji.” She said, “AHG must support peaceful, non-political herbal conferences in all countries, including Israel and support AHG members to speak at any such conference in any country, including Israel.

“If AHG made that statement one month ago, I believe we would still have our speakers today. Had their officials stood up for their own Code of Ethics by making such a statement, it would not have been so easy to allow the bullying from BDS.”

She continued, “This is institutionalized anti-Semitism at the top. These are good and talented people that have aligned themselves with BDS. I am shocked.”

What was expected to be a “win-win” for herbalists worldwide turned into a “deeply concerning situation,” she said. “The conference is to share a wealth of incredible knowledge and rich traditions between herbalists. That BDS cared about such a small herbal conference is mystifying,” Asoulin warned.

“If activists succeeded in confounding this grassroots event in Israel, it seems like their reach is spreading farther and wider than I could have imagined. This should be of concern to all of us, Jew and non-Jew alike.”

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