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In Brooklyn, a potential boycott is shaping up at the Park Slope Food Coop (PSFC) on Union Street, also known as “The Coop.” A group called the Park Slope Food Members for Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions is proposing that a referendum be held among the 15,000 members of the organization in which a “successful” outcome would result in all products made in Israel being banned from the co-op’s shelves. The group has aligned itself with the Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS), whose Web site advocates maintaining a boycott against Israel “until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights.”
Ironically, the Coop was founded by “two Jewish socialists” in 1973. It has a business model which requires that each of its adult members work two hours and 45 minutes every four weeks, and that every adult in a household be a member or no one can join. Some older members along with those who have a disability are excused from the shift requirement. Parental leave is granted for the birth of a child. Anyone missing a require shift is put on “work alert” and must do two shifts as compensation within a month.
The Coop also has its own newspaper, the LineWaiter’s Gazette, its own social calendar, and its own Disciplinary Committee, which investigates “allegations of misbehavior by members” some of which include “using racist, sexist, homophobic or nasty language against other Coop members and staff.”
It also has a Diversity and Equality Committee “dedicated to improving human relations and communication in all policies and procedures” and “preventing and eliminating discrimination in the Coop.” In April, the committee announced “a series of workshops” for Coop “squad leaders” (members in charge of running a particular work shift) to “increase understanding and awareness of diversity in the Coop.”
As one might suspect, the Coop is no stranger to political activism. In 2004, it instituted a boycott of Coca-Cola products for a plethora of reasons, which are noted here. In 2008, it banned bottled water due to environmental issues. In 2010, it boycotted Flaum Appetizer Corp., a kosher food company that sold Sonny & Joe’s hummus, over “workers’ rights concerns.” It also banned Nestle products when that company promoted infant formula over breast-feeding.
Although the current proposed boycott of Israel is only now reaching critical mass, this is not the first time such a proposal has been brought up at the Coop. On January 27, 2009, Hima B., who describes herself as a “queer-centric, intradependent filmmaker who eschews a last name,” made the first attempt to gin up support for a boycott at a meeting. “I don’t know whether or not we carry Israeli products, but I propose that we no longer carry them,” she said. This was ostensibly due to Israel’s military action in Gaza.
The issue was brought up again in the November 4, 2010 issue of the LineWaiter’s Gazette, when General Coordinator/General Manager Joe Holtz penned a column noting that “it is likely that a proposal to boycott products from Israel will soon be submitted to our Agenda Committee for discussion at a future General Meeting.” Holtz proposed that “all boycotts be passed by a two-thirds majority from now on.” He noted that several previous boycotts had a high level of support, “perhaps as high as 95 percent of [the Coop’s] members,” but that boycotting Israel “will be a far bigger challenge for the Coop than any past proposed boycott.” The column likely reflected a meeting last year, where 20-30 Coop members pushed for a referendum on the BDS movement in response to the Gaza flotilla incident, where Israeli commandos killed nine activists aboard the Mavi Marmara.
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