Today, we’re blessed with a guest article by someone on the BDS front lines. Nycerbarb organized successful opposition to boycott efforts at her Park Slope food coop, and blogs at the site Stop BDS Park Slope. She’s also a frequent visitor and commenter at Divest This and an all around cool person. Today, she provides her take on the next item on the PennBDS agenda, BDS and Community Coalition Building.
I have learned much about communities, coalition building and BDS in the last year.
For more than 22 years I have been a member of the Park Slope Food Coop, in Brooklyn, New York. About one year ago, a small group within our Coop began an effort to have the Coop remove from the shelves the 4 or 5 Israeli products the store carries, and more importantly, to publicly endorse the BDS movement. I began an effort to oppose this, forming an anti-boycott group More Hummus Please, as well as the blog Stop BDS ParkSlope.
People join food coops for the food. They want to buy healthy, fresh, local food at excellent prices. People do not join the Coop to have their politics decided for them. While some members may want to use the Coop to promote their pet political project, the vast majority of members ignore those efforts, including efforts to have the Coop participate in a boycott of the Jewish state. Like most people, members of the Park Slope Coop just want to finish their shopping, go home and take care of their lives. And if the Coop’s political capital is to be used for anything, the general feeling is that it should be used to support local issues that affect the food supply (such as opposition to fracking for natural gas in New York State).
Our food coop requires all members to contribute labor. This keeps our operating costs and mark-up extremely low. I estimate my family saves over $3000 a year by shopping and working at our food coop. The work requirement also contributes to the coop’s friendly and accepting atmosphere. Our collective involvement in our unique grocery store makes it possible to walk up to someone and begin discussing recipes, cold remedies or baby carriers. At the same time, the Coop’s cooperative spirit depends upon respect for people’s boundaries, which includes political boundaries. Imposing your own political view upon the membership is a violation of that respect.
Our pro-BDS members could not care less about boundaries, respect or the needs of anyone beyond themselves. With their constant letters to our biweekly newspaper (many of which abuse those who disagree with them) and their unwillingness to take no for an answer, they have turned the Coop into a battleground, trying to import the Middle East conflict into our community. They have made it clear that they don’t care if members quit the Coop because of BDS and – in a supreme twist of logic – they blame those who want to get their self-centered politics out of the organization as being responsible for tearing at the fabric of our community.
But their movement is responsible for successful community building, specifically a community of people dedicated to ensuring that the co-opting of the Coop does not take place. So far, over 200 Coop members have added their names to our calls for the BDS group to leave the Coop alone.
But while BDS advocates have succeeded in creating communities opposing them, do they know anything about genuine community building themselves?
Genuine peace makers demonstrate the commitment to peace and justice by working to “normalize” the relationships between people previously in conflict. They encourage people to participate in joint projects and cultural exchanges, thereby opening channels of communication with the hope that these efforts will result in opponents becoming reconciled to mutual co-existence and tolerance.
This represents the polar opposite of what BDS champions. Time after time, the leadership of the BDS movements has made it clear that it opposes any normalization of relations between Palestinians and Israelis. And those fighting against normalization (which means communication and reconciliation) are fighting against peace.
Food coops, like ours, engage in community building by providing a shared neutral civic space for diverse groups to obtain local, organic, healthy foods. Members benefit from lower costs for items that might otherwise be unavailable to them. Through shared investments contribution of labor, and cooperative effort directed towards a single goal, our community is created and sustained
This is not the type of community building BDS is interested in. Across the country, BDS activists have tried to get food coops to participate in their boycott and while they have been rejected time and time again these efforts have torn communities apart, as their members can attest.
Universities also engage in community building. In an environment of mutual respect and acceptance, young people from diverse backgrounds come together to pursue knowledge, to investigate and to exchange ideas.
BDS is not interested in this type of community building, either. When BDS activists – whether via divestment campaigns or ugly, dishonest propaganda programs like Israel Apartheid Week, come to campus they create hostile environments. Apart from the harassment of Jewish students on a number of campuses (which has led to students transferring from some colleges), the noisy and dishonest arguments that form the backbone of BDS or Apartheid Week propaganda campaigns represent the opposite of what college and the college community are all about.
Awareness movements, such as LGBT or Occupy Wall Street, also build communities. Relationships are created not only between their participant members, but between themselves and the general public. By raising awareness of their situation and concerns, they invoke sympathy and understanding.
BDS, in contrast, doesn’t build a movement so much as it tries to hijack the movements of others, injecting themselves into real communities (such as the LGBT or Occupy) in order to bend it to their agenda. In addition to drawing attention away from important causes such as gay rights, this type of subversion ends up alienating many who might otherwise support grassroots political organizations dedicated to other issues. But for BDS champions, there is only one issue of importance, and if important political projects need to suffer so that the BDS message can be stuffed into their mouths, that’s a sacrifice the boycotters are willing to make.
The BDS community is built on a rigid ideology and does not tolerate dissent. Read any pro-BDS literature and you will find the same logic-defying talking points repeated over and over. Introduce any fact to counter a BDS assertion, and it will be dismissed. Any respected voice showing less than full support for the BDS program will be ostracized from the movement.
It is a community obsessed with Israel. They work full-time and overtime to find ways to vilify the Jewish State. They have no compulsion about abusing organizations built on trust (such as our coop) to promote their cause. Yet, for all those efforts, they have failed to convince any organization to endorse them. So ultimately, BDS is a communityof losers.