Olympia Snowed – Washington Co-op Boycott

BDS projects tend to come in waves or fads. In the early 90s, campus petitions were all the rage, then Mainline Protestant churches were targeted followed by student governments and – most recently – aging rockers and food co-ops.

Part of the reason behind this ever-changing list is the fact that BDS is a relatively nimble “movement,” forever ready to dance away from defeats and capitalize on even the most trivial wins. And since there are so many more of the former than the latter, divestment advocates must forever find new targets of opportunity once too many loses begin to give them a reputation as losers within a certain community.

Which is why yesterday’s announcement that a food co-op (in this case, the Olympia Food Co-op in Olympia Washington) has chosen to impose a boycott on Israeli goods was only somewhat surprising.

The location for one of the few examples of a boycott taking place in the US makes sense (Olympia is home to Evergreen College, home of ISM victim Rachel Corrie and one of the only colleges in America that’s gotten a student divestment vote through after a decade of BDS efforts on campuses). But the details of how the boycott was decided were surprising, given what happened in Davis California just a few months ago.

In March of this year, the Davis Food Co-op, like Olympia Co-op, was faced with a group of members who wanted the store to refuse to sell Israeli goods. Unlike Olympia, the decision being asked of the board was whether to put such a boycott to a member vote which led to public debates and hearings on the subject before the Co-op board made its final decision.

We’ll get to that decision in a minute, but before we do it’s interesting to note that Olympia avoided the public controversy during the decision-making process by simply making their decision without much (if any) public awareness that the matter was being discussed. And so, once again, we have another institution whose members woke up one day to discover that an organization they have been a member of for years is now being touted by anti-Israel activists across the globe as fully onboard the BDS, Israel=Apartheid, propaganda bandwagon (talk about surprises).

As described before, the reasons Davis decided to turn down requests to put boycott on the ballot were extremely interesting and are worth reading in full here. While disappointed boycott supporters claimed the Davis board’s decision was driven by Jewish community pressure and fears of legal reprisals, in fact their decision was based on principles relating to the co-op community itself, notably:

* That the boycotters were demanding that they (an unelected group of people with no fiduciary or other responsibility to the co-op as a whole) be allowed to make decisions for the entire co-op (including the board, managers and members) based on their own political agenda

* That supporting a boycott vote implied agreement with the boycotter’s characterization of the Middle East and acceptance of BDS tactics as representing the entire Co-op, not simply the opinions of a subset of members advocating for a boycott

* That the boycott would fly in the face of principles of the co-operative movement, including the Rochdale principles regarding political and religious neutrality and the Cooperative Principle regarding cooperation between co-ops (including Israeli co-ops)

Davis’ stance also highlighted that co-operatives that have failed to live by these principles and apply sound and careful judgment to where and when it will engage in political activity have created poisoned atmospheres leading to divisiveness, alienation of members, resignations and other harmful results.

Now it’s possible that the leaders of the Co-op in Olympia know all this, but are willing to ignore principles articulated not just by Davis but by the global cooperative movement in order to make a political stance that they (and they alone) know is in the best interest of their community. But it’s equally likely that this is just one more example of a group of single-issue partisans bullying an organization that lacks failsafe mechanisms (such as ways of determining if members agree with a political policy) to make a decision BDS activists tell them is their only choice.

Now that the BDSers have gotten their way, they will (as always) be on their merry way, firing off press releases and posting on newsites and blogs across the planet that Olympia Food Co-op (not simply its leaders, but every man, woman and child who shops there) is all aboard the BDS propaganda express. As usual, it will be left to those members to deal with the wreckage, and the co-operative’s leaders to explain that they have taken a principled stance when they, in fact, have just been played for suckers.

17 thoughts on “Olympia Snowed – Washington Co-op Boycott”

  1. The Olympia Co Op seems to be following a highly simplistic “good” vs. “evil” dichotomy, in which one side is cast as the villain and the other as the innocent victim.

    In Palestinian Liberation Theology, Israel is egregiously cast as the villain bearing sole guilt for causing and sustaining the conflict with the Palestinians.

  2. What the state of Israel is doing to Palestinians is unacceptable under any system of moral or legal measure.

    I need Israel and Israelis to stop treating Palestine and Palestinians as if they're inferior.

  3. But, Berd – they ARE inferior, if the slow but observable progress of human morality is the measure of superiority. Are you a strong supporter of stoning women to death for smiling at a man? Chopping off a hand for allegedly stealing a loaf of bread? Executing an individual who converts from Islam to any other religion? Or how about killing someone who cracks a joke which you, solely on your own intellectual evaluation, determine offends your religious sensitivities? Do you think that any citizen has the right to kill another upon his whim, as happens all the time throughout Palestine?

    Such attitudes were no doubt acceptable in lots of locales – 800 years ago. They no longer represent the prevailing ideal of normative cultural behavior. Nor is the notion acceptable that if you just kill enough Jews, you get to steal whatever you want. Or at least if you substitute any other ethnic group for “Jew”, that would be true. Yet that has been the Palestinian practice for over a century. And while trying to kill Jews, they've driven most native Christians out of their lands with targeted, racist killing of their Christian neighbors. This is the lofty moral equality you would ascribe to Muslims in the Middle East?

    Arab and Persian Islam needs to join the 21'st Century. They're still locked in the 12'th. That's not superior, that's not equal. That's vastly inferior by any healthy modern assessment. So why must people whose morality is so horribly inferior be patronized, why must their murderous, misogynist, terrorist, anti-humanist culture be encouraged to continue in their awful depredations? That's what you propose. I don't accept your notion at all.

    Despite your flawed sentiments, Israel is treating Palestinians pretty damned well. They provide medical aid to their own enemy populace, such as for the woman who was being treated for a lethal disorder and tried to kill her entire medical staff. Israel is the only country in the Middle East where an Arab can go to court and expect a fair trial and a government enforcement of the judge's verdict. Jews have been attacked by Muslims throughout the Middle East since the late 1800's (long before there was an Israel), yet the Jewish response has almost always been measured and appropriate.

    You have your facts totally bollixed. As Rabbi Hillel said, “The rest is details. Study and learn.”

  4. “In Palestinian Liberation Theology, Israel is egregiously cast as the villain bearing sole guilt for causing and sustaining the conflict with the Palestinians. “

    You are right, Leonard. Its because the eventual goal of all these groups is not achieving an elusive “peace” in the Middle east or even the reformulation of specific Israeli policies- the real goal is the elimination of the State of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.

  5. Actually the people who are treating Palestinians as inferior are most of their so-called supporters. These supporters are so patronizing toward the poor Palestinians, who are cast as so vulnerable and underdeveloped as human beings that they cannot be held accountable for any of their own actions. Such support removes any sense of adult agency from Palestinians and renders them as helpless, hapless objects that can merely be acted upon–either by the Israeli occupiers or by the Western Leftist liberators. Meanwhile Hamas sits around and lights the fuses and drinks tea and laughs it up.

  6. What is interesting is that when the Olympia Food Coop takes products off the shelves because they have symbols or names that may be offensive to a small number of people, no one seems to care. There are no howls about lack of process, lack of member voting, blaming those “do-gooder liberals.” But when you start taking Israeli products off the shelf, phew, watch out! The gloves come off! Shows an obvious double standard and just how deep routed the pro-Israel sentiment is in our country.

  7. “What a strange creature this Jew is! When you strike him, he fights back!”

    And what a strange create the boycotter is. He wishes to be able to declare that Jewish state so repugnant that it alone, of all parties to the Middle East conflict and of all states in the region is so loathsome that its products must be pulled off the shelves in an act announced to the nation and the world as one of condemnation of Israel “the Apartheid state”.

    And when members complain about this action being taken in their name without their consultation, and when people like me point out the hypocicy and bad faith behind this decision, this is simply proof positive to you of our double standard!

    I know that, like most boycotters, you wish to be able to do anything you want, whenever and wherever you want, and that simultaneously you want anyone who would disagree to question their right to make their own political statement regarding you. Perhaps the tactic of striking an indignant pose works in some places, but it does not work here and I suspect it will not work in Olympia ultimately either.

  8. I'm with you about those righteous boycotters, Jon. I never supported the boycott of South Africa. Who is to say their form of governance and social order was wrong? And look what it got us? The place is a mess now.

  9. I wish everyone could just be honest about what this issue is all about.

    It is NOT about “the process” the co-op used in deciding to boycott Israeli products. They used the SAME process they used when they recently boycotted Chinese products, and when they remove any other product off the shelves for political reasons. It is consistent with their policies and by-laws and has been in place for years. I didn't hear anyone clamoring about “the process” when they took Pirate's Booty off the shelves!

    What this IS about is a group of people who feel their particular interest (in this case, Israel) has been criticized, and they are angry about it.

    I wish they could just say “Hey, I support Israel and I don't like when people criticize it” rather than grasp at some red herring (in this case, “the process”). It would at least help clarify their position and direct the discourse to the pros and cons of supporting Israel (which by the way, I'm not even going there…that is the 3rd rail of social activism – touch it and get zapped.)

    Have the conviction and integrity to be honest about your position.

  10. To my last anonymous commenter – I believe you have it exactly backwards. What this ACTUALLY IS about is a group of people who feel that their cherished political cause (whether you call it fighting for the Palestinians or attacking Israel) is so important that it must be made the business of every civic organization in the land, including the Olympia Co-op.

    Because they feel that their cause takes precedent over everything (including the well being of a community like that of the Co-op), they are prepared to push a boycott onto the organization’s agenda, regardless of the cost (especially since it will be the Co-op and not they who have to deal with the consequences of that decision).

    Regarding “the process,” I’ve written over the last two days about how the process the Co-op followed could be completely consistent with the organization’s rules (as you describe) while simultaneously fundamentally unethical.

    Why I describe you as getting this whole thing backwards is that it is because the Olympia Co-op had a process that could be easily corrupted (i.e., a way to get a boycott introduced into the organization without having to take into account the will of the members) that Oly was chosen by the BDSers in the first place. At other institutions (including other Co-ops), members/citizens have the means to prevent gullible or over-reaching leaders from handing over the reputation of the institution over to single-issue partisans like the boycotters. Oly has no such fail-safes, which is why it now finds itself the plaything of a political organization that cares nothing about the Co-op, beyond its current political usefulness.

  11. The best thing to do is quit shopping there. There are plenty of other local stores available. Mt. Rainer Organics or Olympialocalfoods.com are two.

  12. It is unfortunate that a group of vocal clearly misinformed people in a “co-op” (haha) has further divided this lovely NW state capital. They did this w/o the approval of their active membership and will suffer the consequences. Sheila

  13. “Anonymous” comments, like the one which starts with “But, Berd – they ARE inferior” can't summon the courage to put their names behind their empty talk, or the other “anonymous” post condemning the boycott decision and calling for …boycotting the boycotters.

    Very entertaining comment thread, LoL!

  14. Hey, I support Israel and I don't like when people criticize it. Though, sometimes criticism is valid–I'm not perfect, you're not perfect, Israel sure as hell isn't perfect.

    But in this case it's not simple criticism. It's not even a decision to boycott because of policies of the government of Israel. It's a decision to sign on to a fatally biased movement that openly acknowledges that it's NOT (only) about the occupation, it's about the very existence of a state of the Jewish people within any borders whatsoever.

    If Oly is boycotting China (as some comments have suggested), I doubt that they are signing on to a manifesto that also insists on the end of national self-determination for the Chinese people. Yet the BDS movement also insists on the destruction of the Jewish state– and Oly has signed onto this. The BDs movement is not, nor has it ever been, about peace between a Jewish state of Israel and an Arab state of Palestine.

    To paraphrase the Ragin' Cajun, James Carville, “it's the delegitimization, stupid!”

  15. I'm NOT convinced that the BDS movement seeks to deny the very existence of the state of Israel.

    However, I do think that the very actions of the state of Israel call for an analysis along these lines.

    Personally, despite the tragic consequences of the state of Israel's actions (to Palestinians AND Jews,) I still support the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish nation—if that is really what the Jewish people need to feel safe.

    And the fact that Israel is a Jewish state makes its crimes against humanity all the more unacceptable.

    No religion, very much including Judaism, stands for oppression and violence.

    Therefore, I think it makes sense to question whether the actions of Israel go against the Jewish religion—and if so, then for all Jews to press Israel for change, for the good of the Jewish people.

    BDS is a tactic, based on the principle of nonviolence, that all people may be treated well, and that their right to live in peace be honored.

  16. For those like Berd who are not convinced, check out the website of the BDS movement itself (http://bdsmovement.net/?q=node/52)which demands:

    “1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall;

    2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and

    3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.”

    We can even skip over the ambiguity of the phrse “all Arab lands” which is used by rejectionists to apply to the entire state of Israel– because the 3rd point, referring to the fictional “right” of return, is dedicated to ending Israel's existence as the state of the Jewish people. (check out the actual text of UN resolution 194 [http://www.mideastweb.org/194.htm]; there is no reference to any “right” of return especially by great-grandchildren of those who initiated the war against the Jews of Palestine in 1947.)

    Saying “BDS is just a tactic” ignores the fact that the organizations that have signed on to it call for the elimination of Israel as the staet of the Jewish people. So if you DO acknowledge the right of the Jews to their own nation in their own homeland, you shouldn't be supporting a tactic which then allows those with that goal to claim that you have signed on to their goal. That's exactly the point that Jon has been making.

    And claiming that you support the tactic, even if you don't support the goals of the movement that promotes it, is like the line that too many Italians used about Mussolini: “he made the trains run on time”.
    Go to a BDS meeting and stand up and say “I still support the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish nation”. Then make sure you have your running shoes on.

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