Armed With Vodka, Israel's LGBT Community Takes a Shot at Putin

Tel Aviv bars frequented by members of the community have joined the global boycott of Russian-made products, in an attempt to stir up world public opinion against conservative, homophobic legislation being promoted by the Russian President.

Shany Littman
Shany Littman
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Shany Littman
Shany Littman

Devotees of Stolichnaya, one of the world’s most popular vodkas, are facing a cruel dilemma: Tel Aviv bars frequented by members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community have announced they are joining the American and Canadian boycott of Russian-made products. The boycott is an attempt to exert pressure on Moscow and stir up world public opinion against conservative, homophobic legislation being promoted by Russian President Vladimir Putin; this situation has been compounded by increasing numbers of vicious attacks on gays in Russia by fascist gangs.

This week, Putin signed off on a law that prohibits a same-sex couple from adopting children. A month ago, he barred the exposure of children to “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations.”

The Israeli LGBT Association is also demanding that Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai publicly cancel the twin-city partnership between Tel Aviv and Moscow. Tel Aviv, they point out, has been crowned an international gay-pride capital, and it invests great efforts in framing itself as a leader in upholding freedom and a
liberal approach.

Like initiatives for a cultural or academic boycott of Israel ‏(but unlike the initiatives to boycott products from the settlements‏) − this case, too, demonstrates the complexity of utilizing such an aggressive method of protest, which sometimes victimizes those who are themselves hurt by their country’s official policies. Stolichnaya, popularly known as Stoli, is a case in point. It is a company that has declared itself friendly to and supportive of the LGBT community. Indeed, its website carries the following statement, adorned with rainbow colors: Stolichnaya “stands strong & proud with the global LGBT community against the attitude and actions of the Russian government.”

Imri Kalman, proprietor of the Shpagat Bar, the first Tel Aviv establishment to stop serving Russian-made liquor, agrees that a boycott is an extreme measure that is liable to harm innocent people. However, he insists that at the moment it is a necessary, declarative act whose aim is to put pressure on Russia, which profits from the import of its products worldwide. If he resided in a European country, Kalman adds, he would boycott Israeli-made products, for similar reasons.

But if Stoli is not boycotted, after the company’s assertion that it is behind the LGBTs, what’s left? Absolut is a Swedish vodka, Zubrowka is made in Poland, Smirnoff in the United States, Finlandia in Finland and so on. Most of the vodka we drink is not from Russia at all. The boycott will just have to target a different type of business. Maybe delis that sell caviar?

West Hollywood bar owners and city officials this week opened a boycott of Russian vodkas.Credit: AP

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