Olympia Boycott – Worse Than You Think

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?

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9 Responses to Olympia Boycott – Worse Than You Think

  1. David July 27, 2010 at 4:27 pm #

    The rampant “I [heart] the Co-op” signs all over town, FB and held at counter demonstrations make a clear visual suggestion that anyone who it critical of the board is lacking in love, a hater.

  2. DNA July 27, 2010 at 4:31 pm #

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Anonymous July 27, 2010 at 8:19 pm #

    Jon, I really enjoy reading your comments. Can you tell us more about who you are, is there an 'about me' page to your blog?
    Thank you!
    -An Olympian

  4. Thad Curtz July 31, 2010 at 4:59 am #

    Hi, Jon. Living in Olympia, I haven't seen anything from people here that tries to characterize “all critics of that decision” as crazed right wingers.

    I certainly have seen stuff saying that that this decision is being attacked, pretty viciously, by right wingers. The sort of people who like reading your blog may well not frequent the corners of the world where that sort of stuff gets posted. (I certainly don't; and I was rather taken aback when I ended up on one the other day clicking on some Google link.)

    Does that seem to you like a fair characterization of this kind of stuff?



  5. Jon July 31, 2010 at 9:41 am #

    Hi Thad – I have no doubt that you can (and did) find some pretty ugly stuff out there criticizing the boycott, the boycotters and the co-op in pretty nasty terms that could be accurately described as “right wing.” At the same time, it would take me just as little time to find vulgar, nasty and even bigoted comments, blog entries or other online material that would put boycott champions in an equally bad (if not worse) light or pigeonhole them ideologically in a place they’d rather not defend.

    This is why I emphasized the “Principle of Charity” in an earlier posting. While I briefly fell off the Charity wagon before you helped me get back on (although only to indulge in a legalistic argument, not to pretend that the stupidest thing I could find any BDSer saying out there was representative of the whole), once you go down the path of trying to define opponents by claiming they are represented by the worst among them, you leave the realm of legitimate debate and move into the realm of recrimination and gotcha (“What do you have to say about the bigoted comment that appeared on a blog you never heard of supporting your cause? Do you denounce it, or are you also a bigot?”).

    In addition to turning a legitimate debate into a game of delegitimizing your opponents, it empties the discussing of everything that makes an argument like this one meaningful and interesting in the first place.

  6. Thad Curtz August 2, 2010 at 4:53 pm #

    Hi Jon. I agree… I certainly didn't mean to suggest that “the stupidest thing I could find was representative of the whole.” (In fact, it seems to me that's basically the move to which I was responding here – your briefly taking one part of what's going on as “representative of the whole”.

    In your original post, you generalize from what seems to me to be the actual situation – some people characterize some critics of the boycott as crazed right wingers – to “a concerted effort” to portray “all critics” that way.

    I certainly didn't want to suggest that there's any less reprehensible stuff available on the Internet on the other side of this issue. I only wanted to point out that when people say that some of what's being posted and sent to the Coop is nasty, they're telling the truth… (I think it would also be an unfortunate simplification for them to claim that there's “a concerted effort” to “portray all supporters” of the boycott in the terms that stuff employs.)

  7. Jon August 3, 2010 at 12:21 pm #

    Thad – Sorry for missing your comment yesterday (busy day).

    Certainly you’re right that we’re all obliged to be charitable in debate, especially outsiders such as myself intruding into your discussions (although, to be fair, your debate was designed to intrude into the political space of others – including me).

    For all I know, this controversy is triggering lofty discussions across Olympia similar to the one I suspect you and I would have if we were not limited to periodic exchanges via a blog comment’s section. But remember that in addition to parts of your debate that I can see (the portions that are shared online), I also have many years experience watching these types of arguments play out in other civic forums, following almost the exact same trajectory as I’m seeing in Olympia right now (surprise followed by anger followed by accusations and counter-accusations of bad faith, bigotry or worse).

    If you attend next week’s forum, you may very well see thoughtful attempts to put this whole matter into proper perspective and an effort come up with reasonable solutions regarding whether the co-op should, in effect, have its own foreign policy. Or you may see what I expect which will include a long evening of 1-2 minute speeches full of emotive and manipulative rhetoric claiming (among other things) that anyone considering reversing the boycott will have blood on his or her hands.

    Will Olympia be the first occasion when outside voices are brought in to provide perspective, even if they offer counter-narratives to the ones being pushed by the co-op’s leadership? Davis is not that far away. Might your group benefit from learning about the thinking that went into their decision to do the opposite of what Oly is doing? And not to hold myself out as the measure of all matters, but would it kill the organization to get the opinion of someone who’s been following this issue for as long as I have?

    Those (among other things) would be signs of open and engaged debate which (as far as I can tell) have been in short supply before, during and after the original boycott decision was made.

  8. ibuilt August 3, 2010 at 5:09 pm #

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. ibuilt August 3, 2010 at 5:09 pm #

    Jon Said “once you go down the path of trying to define opponents by claiming they are represented by the worst among them, you leave the realm of legitimate debate and move into the realm of recrimination”

    When the coop boycotts an entire nation, including those who don't support their own government's decisions and actions, they are doing just that. They are perpetuating and/or legitimizing racism by suggesting that “Israel” has committed some “evils” and that “Israel” needs to be reprimanded.

    How can you attack, or blame, or judge an entire country for the actions of their military (“the worst among them”)? Imagine if we were all held accountable for the atrocities committed by our military over the last 200 years. The military is tasked with defending the nation, and at times their actions cannot be justified, especially if analyzed outside the context of the greater conflict.

    Should we boycott American Made goods because Native Americans still live on reservations? I bet if Native Americans were sending RPG's into our neighborhoods, we would have them walled off and would be similarly oppressive toward them. I also bet that if they decided to try yo take back the land we WON from them through war and deception, that even the most liberal among us would not be eager to allow them.

    The Israeli Army and Government have a complex problem on their hands. It doesn't help that the enemy they face has decided that their primary objective is to eliminate Jews and purge all “infadels” from Israel. I would understand demonizing Israel if their objective was to kill all muslims, but it is not. They want to have a safe and secure country, a place to raise their kids. They rightfully claimed the land they occupy, as all nations did at some time, through conquest. They hold that land through force, as we did when we added Texas and California, when we defended against the Native's, and against England and Japan. According to the history of Mankind, this is how land is possessed, how a nation carves out a homeland for themselves, and Israel is no different.

    We need to spend more time helping people in our own communities, feeding our hungry, aiding the infirm, counseling the distressed. Picketing the coop, standing behind divisive decisions, and trying to change the world are distracting us from the everyday things we can do to make our world a better place.

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