A Brooklyn food co-op that once boycotted products from South Africa because of its apartheid policy may consider doing the same to Israeli products in the coming months.
During an open forum at the Park Slope Food Coop’s January meeting, Hima B., one of the co-op’s 15,000 members, said, “I don’t know whether or not we carry Israeli products but [if we do] I propose that we no longer carry them.” Linewaiters’ Gazette, the co-op’s newspaper, reported that Hima was advised to pursue her suggestion through the Agenda Committee, which determines the items for discussion for each meeting.
Hima is apparently not alone in her sentiments. In the same Linewaiters’ Gazette issue, another member, Imrana Sayed, wrote a letter to the editor suggesting that “the Coop should print a list of products which are made in Israel, so members like me who care about this issue strongly have a choice not to purchase those items.” A third member, Carol Wald, wrote that consideration of a boycott is necessary “in light of the continued occupation of Gaza and this (most recent) ruthless war waged against its citizenry.”
The co-op, which includes many Jews ranging from Reform to chassidic, currently carries four products from Israel: sweet peppers, persimmons, paprika, and marshmallows. It carries approximately 10,000 items in total.
News of the proposed boycott has angered many Jews and bloggers. On Vosizneias.com, one anonymous commentator wrote, “I urge all Jews to immediately renounce their membership in this coop. [A]bsolutely disgusting.” Rabbi Andy Bachman of Park Slope’s Beth Elohim said his congregation might deny the co-op usage of its facilities for future meetings if it votes to boycott Israeli products.
At the same time, however, some pundits claim that the Forward, which first broke the story, and the blogosphere are making much ado about nothing. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s Ben Harris, who belongs to the co-op, wrote that one woman’s proposal during an open forum is far from a boycott in the making. The co-op’s strict rules, he wrote, do not allow members to discuss anything during their meetings unless it goes through several hurdles of procedural rules.
According to Gersh Kuntzman, editor of The Brooklyn Paper, “Stray comments at a Park Slope Food Coop general meeting don’t become Coop law until – and please believe me because I know this from personal experience – extensive debate, discussion and more mudslinging than at an organic composting facility.”
Allen Zimmerman, a general coordinator at the co-op, told The Jewish Press that Hima has not yet submitted an item to the Agenda Committee. And yet, although he hopes the matter won’t come up for a vote, he believes that it may well come to that stage at some future meeting. But its potential for passage is not great, he said.
Asked to describe the general mood among co-op members, Zimmerman said he has heard sentiments both for and against the boycott. Ultimately, though, he is “very doubtful that it would pass.”
As for his personal view, Zimmerman said, “No one in Gaza will be happier if the co-op doesn’t sell red peppers and no one in Israel will feel worse if the co-op doesn’t sell red peppers . All you can possibly do is give yourself some symbolic satisfaction and hurt the rest of your family . We’re part of a cooperative group of all kinds of Jews, atheists, Christians, Muslims, Hindus – you can’t imagine how many religions come together here and work fairly harmoniously together. I don’t want to see disharmony brought to the cooperative.”