While not a member of a food co-op here in Massachusetts, I do take part in a farm share. But when I picked up last week’s supply of tatsoi et al, I couldn’t help but notice a distinct lack of protestors lining the street on my way to the farm. Curious, I checked the Web sites of several local co-ops and found that none of them featured members accusing each other of racism, anti-Semitism, ignorance and apologia for murder.
Even the food co-op at Davis, California, which considered and rejected an anti-Israel boycott a few months back, seemed a joyful place with members on their various Web sites discussing recipes, nutrition tips, and best wishes for the summer (with time left over to announce community service activities such as a blood drive). Why is it that only Olympia seems to be locked in debate that’s includes such enlightening subjects as whom in the Middle East is guilty of genocide, or whether or not the Nazi boycott of Jewish stores was a reaction to Jewish economic warfare against Nazi Germany?
Why is it only at Olympia that members are at one another’s throats? And why is it only at Olympia that co-op leaders have to sort through hundreds of e-mails a day from around the world, demanding they come down on one side of the Middle East conflict or the other? Perhaps it is because, unlike nearly every other retailer (co-op or otherwise) in the country, Olympia decided to turn a conflict that has challenged and perplexed wise and committed men and women for generations into official business.
Now I happen to be 3000+ miles away from Washington State, so perhaps I am missing a wide range of issues that made boycott a requirement for Olympia and almost nowhere else. But given that I’ve been watching and analyzing nearly identical BDS stories as they played out in other communities for 5-6 years now, I think it’s safe to suspect that Olympia’s leadership may be starting to ask itself whether they really know so much more than their colleagues nationwide who have not touched this issue.
Are they wiser than the thousands of people in similar positions who have chosen to keep the Middle East out of their communities, or have leaders outside of Olympia shown wisdom by avoiding taking actions guaranteed to only cause division and pain?
It may be that the Olympia Co-op board is more complicit in this decision than leaders in other civic organizations (such as my former hometown of Somerville, MA) that were essentially tricked into taking a divestment stance (temporarily) at the behest of BDS activists working them behind the scenes. But whether or not this is the case, this same Oly leadership seems to be starting to show concern about taking such a controversial political stance in the name of 15,000 members who had no idea this matter was even being discussed.
Claims that a policy statement here and a by-law there can be looped together to justify making such a controversial choice behind the backs of the membership seem to me (and many Oly members I’ve talked to) as more legalistic backtracking than a satisfying explanation. And making such a decision at a meeting where 50 boycott supporters were present, but no one else knew what would be happening, cannot be satisfactorily justified by criticizing members for not taking the initiative to keep abreast of behind-the-scenes politics (a criticism which sounds a lot like the “didn’t you get the memo?” corporate-speak than the actions of an organization that prides itself on member democracy).
As bad as things have gotten since news of the boycott first escaped to the public, the organization can expect to see the full circus descend during next week’s public hearing on the subject. They can look forward to people who once smiled at each other in the aisles waving bloody shirts and gruesome photographs at one another. People with honest political differences will be branded as “enemies of human rights,” or murderers with “blood on their hands.”
If the co-op’s leadership leaders like what they see next week and want to have it continue for months or years on end, sucking up the time, energy and good will needed to accomplish any other matter, by all means they should let this needless fight continue. But if they want to move the Middle East conflict out of Olympia, they should reverse this decision and determine how to prevent such a poison from entering their community again.