[Marxism] Brooklyn food co-op embroiled in BDS controversy

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Aug 3 10:26:28 MDT 2011


Soy Vey! Could a Hummus Fight Kill the Co-op?

BroBos pick sides as Park Slope Food Co-op considers Israeli 
products ban; Dershowitz rends garments: we will ‘make them pay!’ 
Nobel laureate Tutu backs boycott

By Matt Chaban 12:01am

Israel and the Park Slope Food Co-op have a lot in common. Both 
were founded in part by Jewish socialists. Both are governed by a 
raucous democracy with laws and rituals to rival the Talmud. Both 
have a soft spot for hummus and couscous.

And now both are plagued by the Palestinian question.

Last week, the co-op held its first open discussion about whether 
or not to endorse B.D.S., an international movement that calls for 
the boycott, divestment and sanctioning of Israeli products and 
companies. Supporters see B.D.S. as a nonviolent way to attack 
Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories, while critics 
claim the movement stinks of anti-Semitism. The issue has been 
batted around the co-op for years, from the bulk aisles to the 
letters section of the biweekly Linewaiters’ Gazette, house organ 
of the organic house.

It began in earnest during the Jan. 27, 2009, general meeting, 
when Hima B., a self-described queer-centric, intradependent 
filmmaker who eschews a last name, made a comment during the open 
forum that ran in the next issue of the newsletter: “I don’t know 
whether or not we carry Israeli products, but I propose that we no 
longer carry them.” Apparently there were some Sharon persimmons 
and organic red peppers in stock, but that was as far as the 
discussion went. It was followed by news of broken debt card 
machines on Christmas Eve.

The debate likely would have remained within the confines of 782 
Union Street had someone at The Jewish Daily Forward not noticed 
those three innocuous paragraphs. The ensuring article got picked 
up by Ha’aretz and a million little blogs, setting off a media 
frenzy that consumed the co-op for months. The debate—angry 
letters, dirty looks—did not die down until the following fall. 
When the Gaza flotilla fiasco occurred last summer, it inflamed 
the issue yet again, which led a group of about 20 co-op members 
to push for a referendum on B.D.S., the subject of last week’s 
meeting. This being a democratic institution, everyone gets their 
say, but saying it takes time. It will be at least six months 
before the referendum can be taken up.

I wonder if these artichokes are free trade? Or anti-Semitic? (Getty)

“I think it was avocados,” Dennis James said of his entrée to the 
world of B.D.S. “I was putting stickers on avocados as part of my 
shift, and a couple of other people who were putting stickers on 
avocados got to talking about the fact that there was a B.D.S. 
movement. The issue had been very vigorously debated in the 
Linewaiters’ Gazette for about a decade, but we thought it should 
be put to a referendum so it could be decided in an orderly way.”

For opponents of the B.D.S. campaign, there is nothing orderly 
about this push. “From reading their letters from the past two 
years, they don’t seem to have a terribly sophisticated 
understanding of the situation there, of the group that they’re 
representing,” Barbara Mazor, one of the leaders of the 
anti-B.D.S. movement, told The Observer. “I think they’re latching 
onto it like slogans. Like true believers, it’s the cool thing to 
do. You know, ‘I’m a progressive, and it’s a progressive cause,’ 
so I think that’s how it’s coming through, very thoughtlessly.”

It is not clear how many Israeli products the co-op carries. Ms. 
Mazor said there are only bath salts and the occasional peppers or 
lychee. Emily Damron, a pro-B.D.S. member, said there were many 
more products, which would be impossible to know without a full 
accounting of suppliers and manufacturers. Ultimately, the 
movement’s aims go beyond the Israeli economy. “I welcome sending 
a strong message to Washington this way,” Ms. Damron said.

Senator Charles Schumer, who lives a few blocks from the 
co-op—though he does not belong—and is a staunch supporter of 
Israel, could not be reached for comment due to the debt ceiling 
vote Tuesday.

While last week’s meeting seemed surprisingly orderly to many of 
those in attendance, opponents like Ms. Mazor feel B.D.S. could 
alienate many co-op members. Already there are dueling blogs, 
psfcbds.wordpress.com and stopbdsparkslope.blopgspot.com—part of 
an emerging genre—and should a vote be held, it could divide 
granola-munching families and friends. There is fear of an exodus 
of Jews.

To this end, the pro-B.D.S. camp is calling for a referendum, “to 
protect against bullying and intimidation,” as Mr. James put it. 
This would be far from the first such action taken by the co-op, 
which has launched boycotts against products from South Africa 
(apartheid), Nestlé (bad baby formula in Africa) and Coca-Cola 
(murder of union leaders in Columbia). Contentious fights are 
nothing new either, as the co-op has experienced backlashes over 
the decisions to sell meat, beer and bottled water. “I like that 
you can shop with your conscience,” said Keisha Haines, a co-op 
member shopping Monday night in a batik dress.

Others feel this particular boycott goes too far. One co-op 
member, who said he grew up shopping there with his parents and 
was thus unwilling to give his name, called it anti-Semitic and 
unfounded. “We don’t have any shoppers here from South Africa or 
Nestlé. But this is different—this is Chaim town,” he said, 
referring to the Jewish name that has not been much in vogue since 
his grandparents were living on the Lower East Side. “This is the 
heart of Chaim town. So to come in here and try and push this 
boycott against Israel goes against everything the co-op is about, 
everything it was founded on.”

How many people died for your organic corn? (Getty)

A boycott could lead to divisions not only within the institution, 
but without as well. “It reminds me of what one great historian 
once said about the Puritans: they were opposed to bear-baiting 
not because of the harm it did to the bear but because of the 
pleasure it gave the viewers,” Harvard law professor and 
self-appointed defender of Israel Alan Dershowitz told The 
Observer. “And that’s what these people are, they’re bigots. Many 
of them are anti-Semites. Some of them don’t know they’re 
anti-Semites. That doesn’t give them a pass.”

Mr. Dershowitz vowed to shut the co-op down if the B.D.S. effort 
succeeds. “You have to fight fire with fire,” he said. When it was 
pointed out that this might be difficult because the co-op is a 
members-only operation, he remained undeterred. “We will stop at 
nothing to make them pay an extraordinarily heavy price for their 

The Israeli Consulate was also wary of a boycott, though Consul 
General Ido Aharoni warned that it would backfire in the end. “We 
take it very seriously because we know our own history,” he said. 
“If you look at Jewish history, we do not have the luxury of 
ignoring these kinds of movements.” He then pointed to efforts in 
Toronto and throughout Europe to combat anti-Israel boycotts. 
Pro-Israel supporters would go into the stores and buy out their 
Israeli stocks to bolster demand. “The best thing that ever 
happened to Israel was the Arab boycott in 1945,” Mr. Aharoni 
said. “It caused us to be more competitive.

The pro-B.D.S. movement has its own powerful supporters. Nobel 
Prize winner—Nobel Prize winner!—Archbishop Desmond Tutu pioneered 
the boycott movement in South Africa, and he has openly supported 
B.D.S. movements worldwide, including a successful one last summer 
at a co-op in Olympia, Wash. (The city’s total population is just 
over 46,000, or about one-tenth the number of Jews living in 
Brooklyn.) “The archbishop has spoken in support of B.D.S. on 
several platforms,” a spokesman wrote in an email, suggesting he 
could support this one as well.

In the end, like so many other co-op controversies, this could be 
a crisis of conscience and little else. “Would I leave the co-op?” 
said Ms. Mazor, the anti-B.D.S. organizer. “Did I leave the 
country when a certain president spent eight years in office?

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