Rotten Luck

I’m still trying to find some time to do a little historical unreality fiction at the expense of my old friends at JVP, but in the meantime here’s one missed news story and one observation on the Olympia boycott (something I threw out on the Co-op’s message board that I thought my reader might enjoy).

On the newfront, it looks like Johnny Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten from the Sex Pistols), who will be headlining a music festival in Israel next month, has told critics exactly what they can do with their boycott requests. And as a Pistols fan from the 1980s, I think it’s safe to say that when Johnny Rotten gives you the finger, you know you’ve been fingered.

Regarding the Olympia Co-op, it occurred to me that an interesting paradox is afoot with their decision to boycott Israeli products.

For by the co-op’s own standards, boycotts are directed at those who are guilty of something that is legally or morally repugnant. The guilt of the party which is being targeted by boycott is not in dispute, even if the specifics of the punishment must be negotiated.

But if you look at the number of co-op members who are voluntarily boycotting Israel since the boycott vote was taken, that number has not risen at all. Certainly members are being forced to shop in a place where the choice to buy or not buy Israeli goods is no longer available to them, but no members have made a personal choice (moral or otherwise) to boycott the Jewish state. In fact, many members seem to be going out of their way to purchase the boycotted and other Israeli products from other stores in the area (which are volunteering to carry these goods).

In contrast, many members have chosen to boycott an institution: the co-op itself. And by the co-ops own standards, an organization targeted by a boycott is guilty (although it remains to be seen if the co-op is guilty of ethical, moral or legal failures or some other crime).

So if an institution (the Olympia Co-op) that has been judged by its own standards (and members) to be unethical, immoral or possibly something worse is now sitting in judgment of someone else (in this case, Israel), then people need to ask by what standards this condemned institution is using to establish its moral superiority?

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3 Responses to Rotten Luck

  1. Thad Curtz July 31, 2010 at 5:48 am #

    I think this might use some clarification.

    “…by the co-op's own standards, boycotts are directed at those who are guilty of something that is legally or morally repugnant” might mean that the co-op rules say that you shouldn't endorse a boycott unless it's directed at something wrong, or it might mean that that the coop rules say that every boycott (no matter who calls it, or for what purpose) is somehow guaranteed to be directed at something wrong – as a matter of faith, or definition.

    Since the co-op has historically declined to participate in a number of boycotts (and since the idea that every one of the hundreds of boycott calls you can find on the Internet must be justified seems rather silly on the face of it), I think the first of these is what you're saying, or ought to be saying, at least.

    When you go on to the “paradox”, it seems as if you slide into the second. The conclusion that boycotting the coop shows that the coop is guilty, “by its own standards,” only holds up on the second reading of your account of the coop's standards, which seems an unjustified leap to me. Either one (or neither one) of these boycotts may (or may not) be the right thing to do here, but I certainly think that has to depend on deeper issues than the blind embrace of an equation of any boycott whatsoever with righteousness…

  2. Jon July 31, 2010 at 9:56 am #

    Thad – I was hoping someone would point out the paradox of my little paradox (and am not the least bit surprised that it’s you).

    You are correct in so far as this particular analysis would best be characterized as a somewhat playful use of language for purposes of triggering thought and discussion, rather than a rigorous logical syllogism implied by my use of the word “paradox.”

    That said, I would not go so far as to say my use of the co-op’s own definitions and rules to condemn the co-op itself is that far fetched (even logically). After all, the co-op is saying that when it begins a boycott (no matter how such a boycott came into being) that the target of the boycott is guilty of some type of crime. And it is also saying that this judgment stands, even if the Olympia Co-op represents just a small subset of wider opinion (including the opinion of other co-ops, many of whom have rejected boycott proposals).

    But now the co-op itself finds that it is the target of a boycott, and even if they are being boycotted by just a small subset of their overall membership, as noted above percentages don’t matter when the co-op itself is deciding who is or isn’t guilty of a crime. So I don’t think it’s far-fetched to say that by the co-op’s own standards, the organization stands condemned.

    This is particularly significant since the people condemning the co-op are members taking moral action based on their own conscience. This is in contrast to the Israel boycott itself where members are not given a moral choice to make, having had choice taken away from them by others (the board, acting in collusion with BDS advocates).

    So while I would not go so far as to say the original analysis represents mathematical perfection, it does bring up a dynamic members (and leaders) of the co-op should think about.

  3. Anonymous August 31, 2010 at 2:13 pm #

    “Belief is a very personal thing, but when someone inflicts their view on other people, they're a pig.” Johnny Lydon – Heineken music conference – Tel Aviv.

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