The Supermarket chain Co-Operative Group, Britain’s fifth-largest food retailer, is the first major European retailer to stop buying from companies that export produce from Israeli settlements east of the Green Line.
According to its statement, the Co-Op has not been purchasing goods from the settlements since 2009, but has been doing business with some 20 Israeli companies which sell goods produced in the settlements.
The largest Israeli agricultural export companies affected by this move are Agrexco, Arava Export Growers, Adafresh and Mehadrin.
The new move will likely stir up a renewed battle inside Israel over the hotly contested “Boycott Law,” passed last summer by the Likud-led coalition, which penalizes anyone who organizes or publicly endorses political boycotts against the country, including campaigns directed at Israeli universities, settlements and businesses in Judea and Samaria.
Under the Boycott Law, such an attempt will be considered a civil offense, like libel or defamation, and groups targeted by a boycott can file a civil lawsuit and seek damages from those who initiated or publicly supported it. This may block Israeli export companies from “cleansing” themselves of ties with Judea and Samaria Jewish growers.
“The Group will also continue to actively work to increase trade links with Palestinian businesses in the occupied territories,” the Co-Operative Group statement said.
On Saturday, Co-Operative Group announced that “following an audit of the Group’s supply chain, it will no longer do business with four companies, accounting for £350,000 worth of sales, as there is evidence that they source from the Israeli settlements in the Palestinian occupied territories.”
Hilary Smith, Co-op member and Boycott Israel Network (BIN) agricultural trade campaign co-ordinator, told the Guardian that the Co-op “has taken the lead internationally in this historic decision to hold corporations to account for complicity in Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights We strongly urge other retailers to take similar action.”
A spokesperson for the Palestinian Union of Agricultural Work Committees, told the Guardian: “Israeli agricultural export companies like Mehadrin profit from and are directly involved in the ongoing colonization of occupied Palestinian land and theft of our water. Trade with such companies constitutes a major form of support for Israel’s apartheid regime over the Palestinian people, so we warmly welcome this principled decision by the Co-operative. The movement for boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law is proving to be a truly effective form of action in support of Palestinian rights.”
The Jewish Press will update this story as additional information comes in.