Food Co-op Rejects Effort to Boycott Israeli-Made Products (NY) TIMES) By KIRK SEMPLE and GERSH KUNTZMAN 03/28/12)
NEW YORK TIMES
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Members of the Park Slope Food Co-op voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday
night against a motion that would have moved the organization closer
to joining an international boycott against products made in Israel.
The vote settled a debate that had embroiled the venerable
neighborhood institution for many months and divided its membership.
The vote, conducted by paper ballot, came during the Brooklyn co-op’s
monthly general meeting, with 1,005 people voting against the motion
to hold a referendum on a boycott, and 653 in favor.
“A boycott should be by consensus, and there is obviously not that,”
Jeff Prant, a co-op member, said after the vote. While the arguments
for the boycott had merits, he said, they were “outweighed by the
Tensions at the co-op, on Union Street, had been climbing to a
breaking point in recent weeks as the members, numbering about
16,300, weighed the matter. Reporters and television trucks had
become a common site outside the co-op’s doors. Advocates passed
leaflets with increasing urgency. Politicians and pundits weighed in.
And emotions, in at least one instance, spilled over into fisticuffs.
The boycott lobby is part of an international movement — called
Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or B.D.S. — that is trying to
compel the Israeli government to change its policies toward
Palestinians, and withdraw from Palestinian territories.
“The vote tonight has shown us that we still have a lot of work ahead
in the fight to end Israeli oppression of Palestinians,” said Liz
Roberts, a member of the pro-boycott lobby. “However, despite our
loss in tonight’s vote, we have succeeded in one of our goals: B.D.S.
has entered into the consciousness of thousands of co-op members and
has even made it into mainstream conversations.”
The start of the meeting was delayed by 45 minutes as hundreds of
members filed into a large auditorium at Brooklyn Technical High
School. The meeting had been moved from its usual setting in a local
synagogue to accommodate the turnout of more than 1,600, a record for
Over nearly 90 minutes, about four dozen speakers stepped to the
microphone and made their arguments.
Advocates for the boycott criticized Israeli military action in Gaza
and the West Bank, and argued that a ban would be an important symbol
in the fight against injustice.
Dennis James, who pushed for the boycott, recalled a visit to Gaza in
2009. “I viewed the results of the 22-day bombardment,” he said. “I
saw apartment blocks blown apart. The American school flattened. The
hospital shot full of holes.”
But many opponents of the boycott said the store was no place to
adjudicate the politics of the Middle East. Some questioned the
motives of the B.D.S. movement.
Aaron Dobbs occupied something of a middle ground, saying he was “100
percent against” the B.D.S. movement but “100 percent in favor” of
the referendum in order to give the greatest number of members a
chance to participate in the vote.
The anti-boycott lobby received a boost on Monday, when several of
the city’s top politicians expressed their opposition to the ban,
including Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who said he would encourage New
Yorkers to do more business with Israel, not less.
Irina Ivanova, a boycott supporter, said those officials’ statements
were “a little disappointing,” but added, “I can’t say I’m surprised.”
She said the Park Slope Food Co-op Members that support the B.D.S.
group had received endorsements from a range of activists and social
justice organizations, including the writer Alice Walker, the antiwar
group Code Pink and Mustafa Barghouti, a Palestinian politician.
Boycott supporters had asked even those opposed to a boycott to
support the call for a referendum, arguing that a referendum, which
would involve a mail-in ballot, would give members more time to vote,
thus allowing greater participation.
But some members simply wanted the issue to go away as quickly as
possible for fear that further debate would foment more divisiveness
and damage the organization, which was founded 39 years ago.
“These people are insidious, and they destroy communities,” said
Peter Raskin, a co-op member speaking about the boycott lobby. “If
they have a problem with Israel, let them go to the State Department.”
A boycott would have been largely symbolic; the store carries only a
few Israeli-made products, among them a seltzer-water maker, organic
paprika, two styles of kosher marshmallows and three varieties of
tapenade and pesto, said a store founder, Joe Holtz.
One of the product manufacturers is PeaceWorks, a company that seeks
to encourage peace among rivals through economic cooperation. Its
line of tapenades and pestos uses olives grown in Palestinian
villages, glass jars made in Egypt and sun-dried tomatoes from Turkey.
“The key to resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is greater
understanding of each other, not greater polarization,” Joshua
Scherz, president of PeaceWorks Foods, said in a statement.
Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian human rights advocate and co-founder of
the B.D.S. movement, said that regardless of the outcome, the fact
that the debate had reached Park Slope reflected the momentum the
cause had gained.
“We are fast reaching our South Africa moment,” he said in a
statement from East Jerusalem.
In recent weeks, advocates carrying leaflets have been a common sight
on the sidewalk outside the Union Street store. While civility has
generally prevailed, two people who apparently hold opposing views on
the matter scuffled in front of the store over the weekend.
“That makes me very unhappy,” Mr. Holtz said. “I’m hoping that’s the
end of that.” (Copyright 2012 The New York Times Company 03/28/12)
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