“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.”