I’m still waiting to hear what happened at last night’s Olympia Co-op meeting. Apparently, in order to facilitate an orderly program the Co-op leadership decided to bring in a professional dispute-resolution professional to moderate the event, and set out some pretty strict ground rules for how people were to behave.
No doubt this led to a much more civilized event than other’s I’ve seen, heard about or participated in (which is a good thing). But I can’t help thinking that this is the type of machinery you put in place when you want to get through an evening without people rushing at one another’s throats, not something you put in place to manage a group that is moving towards consensus.
At the very least, last night’s event simply confirmed the obvious: that the Olympia Co-op community is bitterly divided over this issue, to the point where passions have been inflamed. And, as testimony during the meeting verified, the staff was equally divided over this issue, to the point where it never came close to achieving consensus on the matter, despite the fact that boycotting Israel has been floating around the co-op for two years. And given that co-op’s boycott policies have staff consensus is the primary requirement for instigating a boycott, division among the staff and members is no small matter.
Which gets us to the question of just who is united on this subject? The board perhaps, although I am sensing in some of their more recent pronouncements that they are looking for a way to pull back from the brink. No doubt the boycott reflects their wishes and beliefs more than it does the staff and membership, but now that they have spent three weeks witnessing what their decision has wrought, they may be joining the many other organizational leaders who flirted with BDS in the past in trying to find a way to undo what they have done before more damage is caused.
It will be interesting to see whether professional moderation will be engaged to get to the next step in this process (which will no doubt involve examining the organization’s by-laws and policies to fix flaws in the system, and to decide whether the boycott should stand, given that it was the result of flawed policies).
So now we are left with the only group who are united by the Oly boycott: the BDS community. After all, they got what they wanted – an institution they can use to claim their accusations are coming out of the mouths of a 15,000-member organization, not a few dozen boycott and divestment champions. And if some (or even most) of those 15,000 are appalled at what is being said in their name, and if the co-op itself must suffer as a result of handing their reputation over to the BDSers, what do the boycotters care? You can’t make a political movement without breaking a few co-op eggs, apparently, so if members must suffer so that BDS can boast a victory, that’s a sacrifice they’re ready to force the community to make.
If you want a sense of why it is so important for BDS to claim a victory, even a trivial one like Olympia, check out this piece by BDS Generalisimo Omar Barghouti who is hanging the story of success for his whole campaign for world-wide boycott and divestment on the OlyCoop decision. Needless to say, I have a few humble words in response to his interpretation of events which can be found here.