HAR BRACHA, West Bank – You thought BDS stood for “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions,” the international campaign to ostracize and economically cripple Israel?
Think again. Determined to take on the world’s Israel-bashers – especially those opposed to Jewish settlement in the occupied territories – a Christian evangelical family is fighting back with a countercampaign inspired by the same three letters. Only in this case, BDS stands for “Blessing, Defending & Serving.”
Meet the Wearps, devoted advocates of the settler movement who hail from eastern Texas. They are the founders of Blessed Buy Israel, a new venture that helps small, Jewish-run businesses located in the territories sell their merchandise in the United States.
Steve and Doris, along with their five sons, not only market the products. They also provide assistance with labeling and help their suppliers with other logistical matters like obtaining FDA certification.
They see it as part of their crusade against anti-Semites around the world, especially those in Europe who require that goods made in the settlements be labeled as such. (In late 2015, the European Union adopted this requirement to make sure that products made in the settlements, which are not recognized as part of Israel, did not benefit from the same duty-free status conferred on products made within the country’s internationally recognized borders.)
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“For us, that was like painting a yellow star on a store window,” Steve tells Haaretz. “And when that yellow star went on the window, not only were we gonna walk through that store and purchase those products, but we were gonna empty that store of products and bring them out to the nations so that people who really want to stand with Israel can do it – in other words, this is not just about talk, but about actively opposing anti-Semitism.”
The Wearps are currently promoting about a dozen small, family-run businesses in the settlements. The goods include olive oil produced in Shiloh; soap from Kochav Hashahar; cosmetics and ceramics from Itamar; honey and chocolate from the South Hebron Hills; and jewelry from Kiryat Arba.
The Blessed Buy Israel website, which describes its mission as “supporting the courageous families rebuilding the very Heartland of Israel,” includes the personal stories of the families behind each business. As Steve explains, “We don’t want people buying olive oil from Israel – we want them buying olive oil from Erez and Vered. We want our clients to get to know the faces of the settlers.”
Doris pipes in to correct her husband. “We don’t call them settlers,” she says. “For us, they are resettlers.”
Acknowledging his mistake, Steve explains the difference. “The Jewish people have been here for thousands of years – so they’re coming back to where they always were.”
On the road
In 2017, their first year of operation, the Wearps sold $50,000-worth of merchandise from the settlements. This year, Steve predicts, they’ll double that to $100,000. The products are sold through their online site, as well as in churches and synagogues. Since they started the business, the Wearps have moved into a trailer home and travel around the United States visiting churches and synagogues, where they make their sales pitch. For customers anxious to get their hands on the products immediately – often the case, Doris notes, after they deliver their moving appeal – the Wearps keep a stash of products available for sale in their trailer home.
Steve says the plan is to grow even bigger next year by getting the products into stores and shops as well. “Next time you’re in America,” he says, “don’t be surprised if you find us on the shelves of Whole Foods.”
An engineer by training, Steve was born and raised in San Diego, which is where he met his Austrian-born wife. The couple eventually relocated to Texas, where they own and operate a ranch. Steve’s love affair with the Jewish people began at an early age. “I’ve had a heart for Israel since I was a little boy,” he says.
For five years, he served as the U.S. national director of March of Remembrance, an annual prayer walk held to commemorate victims of the Holocaust. “It’s a way that we Christians can be active about our repentance for the Shoah,” he explains.
The Wearps began making friends among the West Bank settlers when they joined HaYovel, an organization that brings Christian families to the settlements to work as volunteers in agriculture. The organization has its main “campus” at Har Bracha, a religious settlement (overlooking the Palestinian city of Nablus) where hundreds of volunteers – men, women and children – come each year to plant and pick grapes for Jewish-owned wineries. The Wearps spend six to seven weeks annually volunteering with HaYovel.
They are there now with three of their boys, taking advantage of the time to check in with their suppliers and expand the pool. To the best of their knowledge, they say, there is no other business like this in the world.
Initially, they had thought of promoting their cause through a nonprofit. But considering long-standing U.S. hostility toward the settler movement, their lawyers advised them to set up a for-profit business instead. “It doesn’t really matter, though,” says Steve, “because all the money that comes in goes back into promoting the products.”
When asked why he would devote so much effort helping such a small fraction of the Israeli population (the West Bank settlers account for some 4 percent of the total), Steve responds: “This is the biblical heartland. This is where we see the real battle for the heart of Israel going on. You’re talking about Shechem [the biblical name for Nablus], Shiloh, Hebron. You’re talking about all the places where the patriarchs walked and lived. I mean, truly, without Judea and Samaria [the settlers’ term for the West Bank], what is Israel? To me, it empties it.”
Religious Israelis are sometimes suspicious of the motives of Christian evangelicals who embrace them so warmly – fearful that the hidden agenda is to convert them. The Wearps say these Jews have nothing to fear.
“We are definitely not here to proselytize,” declares Doris.
“I don’t want to change them,” adds her husband, “and I don’t want to manipulate them. I have no other agenda than to come alongside and see them fulfill God’s calling and purpose.”
Does Steve believe that opposing the settlement movement is an act of anti-Semitism? “Trying to boycott, sanction and divest from Israel, and the agenda set forth by groups promoting that on our college campuses, in our State Department and in our Congress – any place that type of anti-Semitic movement takes place, we will oppose it and we will oppose it by action.”
But surely he is aware that many Jews oppose the settlement movement, and that even in Israel there are Jews who boycott the settlements – including lawmakers who represent Zionist parties?
Steve begs off. “That’s an internal thing within the family of Israel.”
“I don’t understand it,” says Doris, shaking her head.
“Neither do I,” says Steve.