International Politics in the Produce Aisle

March 28, 2012 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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How Israel Referendum
At Co-op Was Defeated

By Zach Campbell
Brooklyn Daily Eagle

BROOKLYN — A few hundred people waited on the sidewalk outside Brooklyn Technical High School Tuesday night, in a line that stretched far past the school’s sweeping facade and the neighboring houses, almost reaching the next block. Flying their political colors on the T-shirts and pins they wore and the signs they carried, members had come to discuss and vote, and voice their concerns over human rights and democracy, as well as seltzer, paprika and couscous.

The Park Slope Food Co-op has been a politically minded institution since its formation in 1973, say members on both sides of the recent debate about whether the market should carry Israeli products. It has, at various times, joined boycotts of many different manufacturers; products made by Coca Cola, Pepperidge Farm, Coors and Tropicana have all been boycotted, as well as products from South Africa during apartheid and from Chile after the 1973 coup.

Two local producers, Domino Sugar (which has since left Brooklyn) and Flaums, a kosher appetizing company in Bushwick, have also both been boycotted by the co-op for their alleged labor practices.

Still, this issue is different, according to Joe Holtz, the co-op’s coordinator and one of its founders, because there is no true consensus among the co-op’s 16,000 members.

“[T]he Co-op has never really taken a position on any boycott that was at all controversial,” Holtz wrote in a March 8 newsletter, adding that nearly every boycott at the co-op was supported by the vast majority of its members.

“We have held our co-op community together by only taking positions on boycotts that had overwhelmingly wide support,” he continued. “This current proposal to join BDS does not have similar co-op-wide support.”

BDS, meaning Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, is the name of an international movement intended to pressure Israel into changing its policies toward Palestinians and withdrawing from occupied territories.
The proposed boycott was voted down Tuesday night, with 1,005 to 685 voting not to put the issue to a full-membership referendum.

The debate surrounding the boycott had recently become very heated, with many local politicians sounding off and reports of a spate of arguments in and around the co-op.

“If they vote to do this, I think they’ll lose half their membership — the co-op will split,” said one member as he walked to the meeting. He said he intended to vote no, not because he doesn’t support the Palestinian cause, but because the issue was so divisive within the co-op.

Barbara Mazor, one of those organizing against the boycott, echoed this sentiment.

“Without even commenting on the Middle East,” Mazor said, “the meeting’s voters commented on the boycott.”

According to Naomi Brussel, one of the organizers of the boycott effort, many BDS supporters are still happy with Tuesday’s results, despite losing the vote.

“From our perspective, the important thing is that we got 40 percent of the vote, even though the mayor, public advocate, and speaker of the City Council all came out against us,” Brussel said.

Another co-op member voiced his support for the cause, but said he didn’t agree with BDS tactics.

“I don’t think boycotting an entire country is the right attack. We can’t condemn the whole country because of what the government is doing,” said one co-op member, who asked that his name be withheld so his volunteer shifts won’t become more difficult. “Maybe you’re damaging a company that is helping people from Palestine.”

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