I just had a visit with folks from Sacramento, the location of the food co-op I mentioned earlierthat has decided to severely limit the practice of boycotting products, rather than have to deal with endless calls to boycott Israel disrupting the organization (regardless of the number of times the boycotters are told no).
Needless to say this decision resulted in howls of protest on the part of the BDSers. And even if their cries of “democracy denied” sound a little hollow (given that their only co-op victoryto date was the result of a co-op board acting behind the backs of the membership), this happens to be one of those cases where (like the proverbial broken clock that is right twice a day), the BDS cru does have a point.
After all, major policy decisions of an organization like a co-op should come out of a process involving as many people in the institution as possible. And just because boycott-Israel advocates have succeeded in poisoning the atmosphere of the co-op doesn’t necessarily mean that restricting the store’s ability to make political statements via the boycott mechanism does not carry a price.
The flaw with the BDSers reasoning, however, is that it only takes into account one set of rights – their own (surprise, surprise).
In the boycotters’ view, their right to relentlessly and endlessly push their boycott project, no matter how much it offends and appalls the wider community, is paramount and trumps all other rights of everyone else. If there is no consensus on a boycott, they’ll push it anyway. If the leadership looks to precedent from the many other co-ops that have rejected boycotts (such as Davis and Port Townsend), they’ll scrutinize the rules with a fine-toothed comb looking for new loopholes to exploit. And now that the board has taken action to prevent this issue from haunting the institution forever, the BDSers have gone on the attack to cause maximum disruption of the organization in whose name they so desperately want to speak.
One of the reasons food cooperatives have been in the BDS news recently is that co-ops (like student councils and aging rockers) represent “soft targets,” places where the divestment cru has a hope of achieving some kind of win after a decade of major institutions (such as universities, churches and municipalities) rejecting calls to divest from the Jewish state.
In the case of co-ops, this opportunity comes from the informal (sometimes loose) governing rules at many co-op organizations which take for granted that any shortcoming in rules and regulations can be worked through in the spirit of cooperation and good will one normally finds at a member-owned small organization.
Boycott policies are a perfect example of this phenomenon. Having seen various rules put in place to govern boycott decisions at different co-ops (one in Massachusetts, for example, allows a boycott to be vetoed by 10% of the membership signing a petition), it’s clear that these rules were designed to help implement political decisions that have already become a consensus position within the organization, if not the nation at large (a la South Africa or green/environmental issues).
But what if a person or group is not acting in good faith or in the aforementioned spirit of cooperation? What if their goal is to add the “brand” of a particular co-operative store to their trophy cabinet, allowing them to bellow across the country that “XXXXX Food Co-op has boycotted Apartheid Israel and you should too!!!!!!,” pretending to speak in the name of every man, woman and child in the organization?
In that case, the co-op’s leadership and membership are not parties to the conflict, but simply a speedbump in the way of the BDSers getting the bragging rights they so desperately desire. And if such behavior offends other members or causes mayhem in the organization, what do the boycotters care? After all, their audience lies elsewhere.
As mentioned above, a co-op deciding it can no longer make political statements using the mechanism of boycott (a mechanism that has worked effectively in other situations) is not without negative consequences. But if the boycott tool has been removed from the box at a place like the Sacramento Food Co-op, the BDSers have only themselves to blame. Like everything else it touches, BDS has so soiled the boycott option that places like Sacramento are better off living without it, rather than let it continue to be exploited at the expense of everyone except a small minority of partisans committed to getting their way no matter who else is hurt in the process.