Olympia Redux – Recognition

If a judge decides to hear the case against the Olympia Food Co-op, brought against it by members who claim the organization broke its own rules in order to push through a boycott of Israeli goods, the procedural issues noted previously probably represent the plaintiff’s strongest argument. But other bylaw language that stipulates the co-op only “honor nationally recognized boycotts that are compatible with [the co-op’s] goals and mission statement” highlights another interesting point.

Like many legal matters, this issue rests on the definition of a single word, in this case the word “recognized.” Like so many words (my favorite being “caper” which can be a garnish, a robbery or a prancing walk), “recognized” has different meanings with important distinctions between definitions.

One can “recognize” something in the sense of knowing what it is when seeing it. But one also recognizes authority, leadership or authenticity which indicates that the recognized person or institution has established a significant level of legitimacy.

For example, if you look at this picture, most of your will “recognize” it as one of Sponge Bob Square Pants. But that’s a long way from claiming that since you “recognize” this character, that means you must “recognize” him as King of the High Seas, the CEO of General Motors or the Pope. The threshold for the first “weak” definition of recognition is simple familiarity. But the threshold for the second “strong” definition is a consensus agreement strong enough to establish fact. Thus Benedict XVI is recognized as the legitimate current Pope (even among people who might never recognize him if he walked down the street).

In the case of the anti-Israel boycott which is part of a wider BDS “movement,” no doubt many would recognize that such a political program exists. Indeed, given the fact that I’ve been writing about it 2-3 times a week for several years, I’m currently able to recognize this “movement” by its smell alone.

But to become “recognized” in the sense of establishing consensus around legitimacy, this would require that someone other than the proponents of such a “movement” have accepted its claims and embraced its goals. But as has been discussed here for years, practically no one who has been asked to provide such recognition and boycott or divest form Israel has done so, despite close to ten years of effort on the part of the BDSers.

Leaders of colleges and universities, churches, cities and towns, financial firms, retailers and unions (i.e., the people with decision making power regarding whom to boycott or divest from) have all rejected requests to participate in BDS (many of them several times). In fact, because institutional rejection is now anticipated by those calling for boycott and divestment, BDS advocates have decided to stop asking and simply pretend these institutions have joined their cause (resulting in a series of BDS hoaxes over the last 2-3 years).

Even among those who are not responsible for divestment decisions, the majority opinion on BDS is a rejection of its premises and tactics. For example, while the BDSers may be able to point to 1-2 instances where student groups have voted in favor of divestment (such as Evergreen College in Olympia Washington), these cases are dwarfed by rejection of divestment by many more students at places such as Berkeley or Harvard and MIT (where anti-divestment petitions outdrew pro-divestment ones by a margin of ten to one).

In fact, among all institutions targeted by BDS, none have gone further to establish the lack of “recognition” of the BDS movement, its tactics and goals than food co-ops. Outside of Olympia, every other co-op that has been asked to boycott Israeli goods has refused to do so. And not only have they rejected it within the framework of an open debate and discussion denied to members of the Olympia Co-op community, they have also performed the heavy lifting research to establish that anti-Israel boycotts contradict the very founding principles of the co-op movement itself (called the Rochdale Principles).

In other words, the only reason people “recognize” the BDS movement in the weak sense of that term (i.e., simply having heard of it) is because the BDSers themselves make a lot of noise. But recognition in the strong sense, i.e., recognition that BDS has established legitimacy beyond simply those advocating for it, is nowhere to be seen (especially in the world of food cooperatives).

Again, it will take a court to determine whether this argument regarding how recognition is defined holds any water. But at the very least, this part of the case against the Olympia Food Co-op lays bare the vast gulf between what the boycotters believe to be true and right and what the vast majority of the rest of us know to be false and nasty.

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