In Defense of the Park Slope Food Co-op’s Israel Boycott

Until recently, the matter of boycotting and divesting from Israel had only been raised in letters in the Linewaiters’ Gazette, where the debate has ebbed and flowed for over two years. But at a July 26th general meeting—a monthly gathering held at Brooklyn’s Congregation Beth Elohim—the grinding wheels of Coop democratic process began turning with the first face-to-face discussion of BDS. The question at hand was not whether or not the Coop should join BDS, but rather whether they should even hold a membership-wide vote. “Why not boycott Syria, Saudi Arabia, or Bahrain?” said Susan Tauber, one of the members advocating against the referendum, according to the Linewaiters’ Gazette’s recap of the general meeting.

Coop BDS organizers told me that almost all of the supporters who spoke at the meeting were Jewish and identified themselves as such. Still, Jewish opponents of BDS at the Coop show that the “progressive except Palestine” phenomenon in the American Jewish community has not gone away. While open to hosting the debate in his synagogue, Congregation Beth Elohim’s Rabbi Andy Bachman—generally considered a progressive rabbi—condemned the boycott efforts in a statement, writing, “BDS rhetoric reveals that the ultimate goal of the majority of its supporters is a dissolution of Israel as a Jewish state. This is simply untenable and unjust.” (Bachman was referring to BDS’ demand that Palestinian refugees be allowed to return to what is now the state of Israel in accordance with UN Resolution 194.) In the Linewaiters’ Gazette, BDS opponent Ruth Bollettino made the same argument, but in starker language. “The ‘right’ of Palestinian refugees to return means dismantling the Jewish state demographically, flooding it with Palestinian Arabs,” Bollettino wrote, revealing the racial fears underpinning the drive to maintain Israel as a Jewish-majority state. Her letter joined seven others against BDS, one in support of BDS, and an unrelated letter thanking a stranger for having returned $90 that had fallen out of the writer’s pocket at the Coop entrance.

Boycott supporters at the Coop would seem to be in the minority, if one were to judge by the letters in the Linewaiters’ Gazette or the Observer, which admitted its nonscientific methods while noting, “Finding pro-boycott members outside the co-op Monday night was no easy task.” But Melissa, a Brooklynite Coop member of eight years, had a different impression of the membership’s stand. “The silent majority of Coop members are probably uncertain about the issue of BDS,” she said, adding, “The challenge that we have is not to change the minds of people like Barbara Mazor.” Rather, it is to educate their fellow Coop members as to the need to honor the Palestinian BDS call.

Retired lawyer Dennis James, a Coop BDS organizer, noted the generational divide he sees in conversations about BDS—who shuts off, and who’s willing to engage. “Some of the older people, you can’t raise the subject. It’s verboten,” James said. “Whereas younger people might argue with you but they will talk about it.”

The other day, I met up with my friend Jesse Bacon at Tealounge, a coffeeshop across the street from the Coop. Despite having once seen a mouse scamper through the glass dessert case there, I ate part of Jesse’s cookie as we talked BDS shop. He’s an activist with Jewish Voice for Peace, working on their campaign to get the pension fund TIAA-CREF to divest from Motorola and other companies profiting from the occupation of the West Bank. Many TIAA-CREF holders are teachers and other professionals who tend to skew liberal in their politics. Working on the campaign has helped Jesse see how important it is to have a sympathetic population when advocating BDS in an institution. Jesse weighed in:

In a certain sense, the Coop campaign is dealing with liberal people who just want to get their crunchy, hippie food and be left alone. But the best things that movements critical of Israel can do is to push people to be consistent. Consistency is a great thing to offer people. It requires some explanation and education as to why this is part of your other values–why boycotting or divesting from Israel is an extension of them.

The cringe factor was high for both of us while reading the Observer’s anonymous source decry the Coop BDS campaign reaching into the heavily Jewish populated Park Slope, “the heart of Chaimtown.” At the same time, Jesse pointed out, “The fact that a BDS campaign is even going on in ‘Chaimtown’—the heart of the Jewish crunchy liberal establishment—whether or not this wins, it shows that this issue is everywhere now.”

mchaban [at] observer.com | @MC_NYC

Comments

  1. RandomThgt says:

    Please explain to me why is it whenever someone/a group criticizes Israel, that person/group is proclaimed an anti-Semite?  Everything that Israel does is not “right” (irrespective of whether this boycott is right or wrong) and the wisdom of  Israeli public policy should be able to be discussed with accusations of anti-semitism being thrown around…

    1. State says:

      “when Israel is demonized, when Israel is held to different standards
      than the rest of the countries, and when Israel is delegitimized. These
      cases are not disagreements with a policy of Israel, this is
      anti-Semitism.” – Hannah Rosenthal, US State Department

      BDS does all three.  The goal of BDS is the elimination of Israel as a state of the Jewish people.  Jews are a people, like Greeks, Armenians, Kurds, Tibetans, etc., and therefore have a right to self-determination, like all peoples. 

      BDS is not about Israel’s policy.  It is about Israel’s existence.

      1.   I could take that pronouncement seriously if there was a snowballs chance in hell that a boycott would eliminate the state of Israel. 

        But I know, and the boycotters know, and you know that that is simply not the case.  An economic boycott may force Israel to change some of it’s policies, but it’s pure fantasy that it’s going to make it cease to exist. 

        Nothing like trashing an advocacy by linking it to a larger conspiracy.  Jeez, it’s a food coop in Brooklyn considering a boycott.  Not exactly earthshaking. 

      2. State says:

        Endorsement of the BDS movement is a symbolic act.  BDS’s position is that a Jewish State is not legitimate,   i.e. it shouldn’t  exist.   If the Coop joins BDS then every single member is associated with a position that is, by definition, anti-Semitic.

        It has nothing to do with Israel’s policies.

      3. That’s where you are wrong. It is about getting politicians and corporations who invest in that government, to rethink their investment.

        The only thing people like this understand is money and when that money is under threat policy change appears soon after. i for one dont care what anyones religion is, because as a BDS supporter what concerns me is the fact hundreds of thousands dead over 63 years, and not one person bats  an eye.

        Why? because after being pillaged by Israel the Palestinians have NO resources which make it a viable country to save. So we are giving them an artificial resource.

      4. Well, SA under its racial apartheid, faced a similar boycott, and I believe still visible on a map. But the wall isn’t on there anymore! :D
        :)

      5. i always thought jews were religious….  greeks are greek and follow the greek orthodox relgion majorly, (organically too) armenians are from armenia, kurds tibetans etc… my point is clear here i think.

        BDS is bringing to light the atrocities of ISRAEL as a state, and how can being critical of a statehood entail being hateful to a religion? thats a false rhetoric and one you need to steer clear of.

        Religion = jewish  state = israel,  UNLIKE nazi germany, where their boycotts were against JEWISH store owners, just because they were jewish, the BDS boycott is against any company, secular or jewish or whatever, that has dealings with the ISRAELI war machine.

        I can’t believe how many times i need to keep reiterating this!

      6. Seethe wholepicture says:

        does anyone find it strange that all of these”humanitarians” and “peace activists” are so bent on berating Israel but don’t seem to say a peep when all the actual atrocities occur in the rest of the middle east and North Africa  (Libya/Syria etc…) Do you really think that the way Israel treats the palestinians is comparable in any way to the way the arabs treat israelis outsiders and themselves? How many patients from arab countries are treated every day in Israeli hospitals?  What have the arabs contributed towards peace? ” If you give us what we want we’ll stop bombing terrorizing and attacking”  while at the same time teaching constant hate and degradation of others…Look into what happens when israelis have mistakingly wondered into arab areas and how quickly they are lynched. What other country would allow themselves to be under constant threat and bombardment without destroying whoever is doing it? 

  2. Max Finkel says:

    While it’s not certainly not anti-semitic, it isn’t in line with your liberal leanings to push against a country whose roots in socialism and current social protests are clear markers of a society in which change to policy is possible on a domestic level, free from your boycott’s possible results.  Meanwhile, Gaza and the West Bank are ruled by a near-theocracy (and before you say it, no, Israel is not a theocracy at all), whose policies regularly target LGBT and women’s rights.  I’d say that if you wanted to make a difference and not just appear as such, support Israel and its place as an outpost not of American, but of liberal values in an area of the world where these are lacking.

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  3. Ashpah3420 says:

    Since the Food Coop does not have an Israel boycott, don’t you think your headline should read:  “In Defense of Promoting an Israel Boycott at Park Slope Food Coop”

  4. Mark says:

    For all their talk of hating Israel, they do not demonstrate how the Pali’s deserve any state let alone have any comparable foods/goods that they would stock on their shelves as a substitute.
    Seriously, I hope these Park Slopers choke on thorns or at least be so accommodating as to share their apartments with Native Americans who ancestors were forced out not too long ago (1700s).

    1. Native americans signed a treaty did they not? unlike pali’s they got their recognition and they still to now get preferrential treatment in the USA and retribution payments.

      Theyre also allowed to build financially secure and tax free casinos. which are populated with white people predominantly.

      Learn your history. If Israel did anything half as symbolic there’d be NO issue!