At first, I assumed the Olympia Co-op boycott was just another case of a well-meaning, but naïve organization giving a boycott group a friendly hearing and ending up becoming their hand-puppet. But the more I learn about what’s been going on at Olympia, the more this begins to look like one of the most appalling cases of BDS infection I’ve ever come across.
To start with, at the meeting where the boycott was decided (a meeting that included 40+ BDS supporters and not one member of the community that could represent a differing opinion – a shocking situation in and of itself) an early draft of the boycott proposal apparently anticipated that this action would divide the organization’s membership.
In other words, the co-op’s leaders not only were aware that an Israel boycott could be divisive within the membership, but fully anticipated the damage their action would cause. But they did it anyway, taking into account only the opinions of the BDSers in the room and ignoring the 15,000 other members the board was allegedly elected to represent.
Now boycott supporters have grown fond of pointing out that the organization’s boycott policy does not require boycotts to be put to a member vote (which is apparently true), indicating that the group’s leaders alone have the power to make these decisions. But these leaders must also abide by the organization’s foundational bylaws which include the following explicit board responsibilities:
14. maintain free-flowing communication between the Board, Staff, committees, and the membership;
15. adopt policies which promote achievement of the mission statement and goals of the Cooperative [one such goal including: “support[ing] efforts to increase democratic processes”]
In other words, while co-op boycott policy gives the leadership the power to impose a divisive boycott, the board’s use (or misuse) of this power to do something they knew in advance would divide the membership seems to be in clear violation of the organization’s fundamental bylaws. Did the board “maintain free flowing communication” with the membership over an issue they knew in advance would be divisive? No. Did they support “democratic processes” when they handed everything but the final vote on this decision (including wording of their boycott resolution and veto power over what products fell under the boycott) to an unelected BDS group? No again.
Since the vote was adopted, there also seems to be a concerted effort to portray all critics of that decision as crazed “right wingers” whose only response has been to threaten the staff and members of the organization. And from material that’s been forwarded to me, it seems as though the call has gone out to the global BDS movement to parrot this characterization of boycott opponents.
As an outsider myself, I can only express mild irritation that arguments I’ve been making (which I hope have been reasoned, regardless of whether or not they convince) are being ignored or mischaracterized as “right wing” taunts. But within the organization, what is one to make of the fact that one set of members (boycott supporters) are calling on outside BDS activists to smear fellow members (boycott critics) who don’t toe the BDS party line?