The debate over whether to boycott Israeli food products at the Park Slope Food Coop had been raging in Brooklyn for months. But it was thrust into the national limelight Tuesday after members voted overwhelmingly against adopting the ban.
A primer on the contentious boycott, after the jump.
What is the Park Slope Food Coop?
Located in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, the politically active food cooperative is one of the oldest and largest co-ops in the United States. Founded in 1973, the market has more than 15,000 members, who are asked to contribute labor to keep store prices low. According to its mission statement, the co-op is “a buying agent for our members and not a selling agent for any industry.” Non-members can visit the store but cannot buy anything.
Has the co-op banned products for political reasons before?
Several times, according to the Brooklyn Paper. During Apartheid, co-op members banned products from South Africa. After a local labor dispute, members banned products from a Williamsburg kosher food company. Perhaps the most popular ban — though not political — has been the plastic bag.
What triggered the proposal to boycott foods from Israel?
The boycott is part of an international movement called Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (B.D.S.), according to the New York Times. The B.D.S. hopes actions like local food boycotts can help force the Israeli government to change its policies toward Palestinians. “The vote tonight has shown us that we still have a lot of work ahead in the fight to end Israeli oppression of Palestinians,” Liz Roberts, a member of B.D.S., told the Times. But Roberts said the group had achieved a major goal this month: “B.D.S. has entered into the consciousness of thousands of co-op members and has even made it into mainstream conversations.”
When did the conversation around a boycott begin?
Last May, the Brooklyn Paper reported that a “wildly controversial ban” on Israeli products was going to hit the Park Slope Food Coop. But the boycott had actually been first proposed in 2009, by a member named only as “Hima,” who suggested there should be a ban on Israeli products at the store, the market’s newsletter the Linewaiter’s Gazette reported.
Were most co-op members for or against the ban?
Hard to say. Over the past month, advocates of the boycott passed out leaflets outside the store with “increasing urgency,” according to the Times. These members heavily criticized Israeli military action in Gaza and the West Bank.
But there were also many members who insisted the ban was not necessary. Back in May, a group of members who called themselves “More Hummus Please,” in reference to the proposed boycott of Israeli hummus at the store, said they were more interested in “pomegranates than politics,” according to the Brooklyn Paper.
What products would have been boycotted?
The boycott would have mostly been a symbolic one, as the store carries few products made in Israel. These products include the infamous hummus, a seltzer water maker, organic paprika, two styles of kosher marshmallows and three varieties of tapenade and pesto, according to the Times.
Why did it take so long for the co-op to make a decision?
Votes, which are conducted by paper ballot, happen at monthly general meetings. “The wheels of social justice turn very slowly at the Coop, where proposals don’t become Coop law until exhaustive debate,” Brooklyn Paper wrote in May.
Did anyone high-profile weigh in on the debate?
At a fundraiser for a Jerusalem museum in February, conservative commentator Glenn Beck called the proposed boycott “anti-Semitic,” and a move that could injure the whole human race, the Brooklyn Paper reported.
Top New York politicians also spoke out against the boycott over the past month, calling it, among other things “madness,” “ill-conceived,” and “an anti-Semitic crusade,” the Times reported.“Why any of this has anything to do with selling food, I don’t know,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a news conference in Brooklyn. He said he encouraged more business with Israel, not less.
So what happened Tuesday night?
A vote was conducted by paper ballot to decide whether to hold a referendum on a boycott of Israeli products.
Chadwick Matlin, a senior editor at Reuters Opinion who says he’s a member of the co-op, live-tweeted the vote. A few of the highlights:
"When I belong to the coop I belong to justice"— Chadwick Matlin (@ChadwickMatlin) March 28, 2012
"I actually have a CD about hummus, that's how much I love hummus.— Chadwick Matlin (@ChadwickMatlin) March 28, 2012
"For folks who are saying this debate is bringing negativity into the coop. Negativity is already there. It's there in every olive..."— Chadwick Matlin (@ChadwickMatlin) March 28, 2012
(Read Matlin’s live-tweeting of last month’s meeting at The Awl.)
The vote overwhelmingly showed that most members did not support the boycott, with 1,005 people voting against the motion to hold a referendum and 653 in favor, according to the Times.
“Somebody won, somebody else lost. Democracy had denied democracy; one vote had prevented another. There was nothing left to wait for. Dayenu,” wrote Matlin in New York Magazine.
Dayenu, a song sung during the Jewish holiday of Passover, translates roughly to: “It would have been enough for us.”