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

park slope coop bds e1314040318294 In Defense of the Park Slope Food Co ops Israel Boycott

Organic democracy. (BKLYN GUY

On the progressive blog Waging Nonviolence, Kiera Feldman mounts a vociferous defense of the Park Slope Co-op’s right to boycott Israeli goods, should its members feel so inclined. It is in large part a 1,600-word critique of The Observer‘s recent series on the BDS debate that has swept the brownstone bastion in recent months. We considered grabbing a few paragraphs for a “smug” blockquote commentary of our own, but instead, we’re giving the subject a full airing here, republished with permission. And, for more, there is a lighthearted shopping trip to the co-op to see exactly what products might be boycotted, which kind of reminds The Observer of the time we went comparison shopping at the co-op. Now, to Ms. Feldman:

Once, in the bulk goods aisle of the Park Slope Food Coop, a wild-haired woman stood next to me and scrutinized the coffee-grinder settings. “I’m using it for an enema,” she explained. “It needs to be very fine.” I suggested the espresso grind.

This is exactly the kind of shopping experience I hoped for when I joined the Park Slope Food Coop in the fall of 2009: a realization of the eternal promise of New York, home of the strange. (That and crazycheap organic food.) Founded in 1973, the Coop is a Brooklyn institution with enough character to have spawned its own genre of trend piece. Some examples: the Coop has Byzantine rules and work requirements (debatable); the Coop has nannies covering their employers’ shifts (dubious); and, most recently, the Coop is becoming a hotbed of anti-Semitism (downright wrong).

The New York Observer has contributed the latest addition to the genre, with a smug piece earlier this month devoted to Coop members’ efforts to initiate a boycott of Israeli products and divest from whatever Israeli holdings the Coop might have. At the historically progressive Coop, the Observer procured a chorus of sources declaring the campaign anti- Semitic and intolerable in “the heart of Chaimtown,” as one man put it, referring to Park Slope’s high Jewish population. For the full sensationalist effect, Alan Dershowitz—the de facto representative of the hawkish Israel-right-or-wrong Jewish establishment—denounced the campaign’s “bigotry” and threatened to shut the joint down, an ambitious goal for a Cambridge, Massachusetts, resident who is not a member of the democratically-governed Coop.

The Coop campaign is part of Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS), a global movement launched with a 2005 call by 170 Palestinian civil-society groups. Shorthand demands: end the occupation of the Palestinian Territories; end the legal discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel; and allow the 700,000 Palestinians expelled in the 1948 creation of the state to return—along with their descendants—to what is now Israel. Until the country complies with international law, the movement vows economic and cultural boycotts, institutional divestments, and governmental sanctions of Israel. Perhaps the strongest indicator of BDS’s power is the Boycott Law passed in the Knesset in July, making it illegal for groups like Boycott from Within to advocate BDS in Israel, a state that bills itself as “the only democracy in the Middle East.”

Leading the charge against BDS at the Coop is Barbara Mazor, who told the Observer, “I think [BDS supporters are] 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.” (Mazor also alluded to her otherwise liberal politics with a dig at “a certain president [who] spent eight years in office.”) The political alignment of the Coop’s BDS opponents is made clear on their website, which links to the reactionary pro-Israel group Stand With Us, known for having once pepper sprayed anti-occupation activists from the group Jewish Voice for Peace, along with having published an anti-BDS comic book that depicted Palestinians as vermin, in a throwback to Nazi propaganda.

“People here are always thinking about the implications of everything,” Mazor was quoted as saying in a 2001 academic article about the Coop. “That’s really nifty. I find that stam people [Yiddish for “ordinary people”] think about less and less.”

Those who argue that the Coop boycott campaign is anti-Semitic believe that BDS “singles out” Israel among all the other nations of the world that commit grave human rights violations; the only reason anyone would focus on Israel, the logic goes, is because they harbor prejudice against Jews. “Israel has a lot of problems, but so does China, so does America, so does a lot of the world,” Coop member Andrew Sepulveda told the Observer, voicing a common BDS counterargument. But must we rank wrongdoing nations before taking a stand? And is it not logical to single out Israel, given that U.S. foreign policy has already singled out Israel with over $3 billion in annual military aid? “Whenever we take a political action, we open ourselves up to accusations of hypocrisy and double standards,” BDS supporter Naomi Klein reminds us, “since the truth is that we can never do enough in the face of pervasive global injustice.”

“The reason we’re boycotting Israel and not Atilla the Hun is because there is an international call for boycott on Israel, and we should be honoring boycotts,” according to one Coop boycott supporter, who asked not to be named. “We shouldn’t be crossing picket lines. End of story. The reason we aren’t boycotting Atilla the Hun is because there is no international campaign to boycott Atilla the Hun. If the victims of Atilla the Hun ask for a boycott, then we should take that seriously.”

In a letter published in the Coop’s house organ, the Linewaiters’ Gazette, boycott organizers noted that the Coop has a long tradition of boycotts—of both individual companies and entire nations. A 20-year boycott of South African products began in 1973, the year of the Coop’s founding. There have been eleven Coop boycotts since 1989, including Coca-Cola, Domino Sugar, non-United Farm Worker grapes, and tuna.


  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.

    1. Anonymous says:

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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!