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Group Wants Park Slope Food Coop to Consider Boycott of Israeli Products

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3/27/12 Update: Park Slope Food Coop members will vote on whether to approve or reject a member-initiated proposal to hold a referendum about joining the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement at its general meeting on Tuesday, March 27 at Brooklyn Tech High School, according to the coop.

A group aligned with the B.D.S. movement wants Brooklyn's Park Slope Food Coop to consider a move toward a boycott of Israeli products.

Opposing opinions on issues around Israel and Palestine have long been exchanged in the coop's in-store newspaper, the Linewaiters' Gazette. But on July 26, the group Park Slope Food Coop Members for Israeli Boycott, Divestment, & Sanctions proposed that the coop's board vote on whether or not to hold a referendum to poll the coop's 15,000 plus members on the issue.

"I think that's a peaceful way to get the message across," said member Brenda Iijima. "It's controversial and I understand everyone's sensitivity. But I think what's happening in Palestine is just unconscionable and sad. We are directly responsible for it in the United States."

Member Jeffrey Goodman disagreed.

"I'm against boycotting," he said. "I feel Palestinians should have their country. But at the same time, boycotting Israeli food is not the answer."

A blog for those opposing the B.D.S. endorsement has sprung up called Stop BDS at the Park Slope Coop. Rabbi Andy Bachman of Park Slope's Congregation Beth Elohim also posted a response to the referendum discussion on his blog.

Member Miwa Yokoyama said that the coop shouldn't get involved.

"It is a hot divisive issue," Yokoyama said. "I just feel it's not in the mission of the co-op though to really be taking political stands on these types of issues. I, myself, might have my own opinion, but I don't think it should really affect the coop."

Other members said they needed more information about the B.D.S. before considering a referendum.

"My first reaction is that I probably would support it," said member Stephen Twilley. "But I would like to first hear intelligent people debate the pros and cons of such a move because maybe it would or maybe it wouldn't be the best way to protest the government's policies."

At press time, there was no item on the referendum on the coop's next Aug. 29 general meeting agenda. But Park Slope Food Coop Members for Israeli Boycott, Divestment, & Sanctions said it would submit a proposal to the agenda committee asking it to consider a vote on the referendum.

The most popular Israeli product that the Park Slope Food Coop stocks is an electronic device for making seltzer water called the Soda Stream Seltzer Maker, according to the coop's general coordinator Ann Herpel. Other items from Israel that the coop stocks are couscous, paprika, vegan marshmallows and Masada dead sea bath salts. The coop does not stock Israeli produce.

The Park Slope Food Coop isn't the only food coop to consider a B.D.S. endorsement. The Olympia Food Co-op's board voted to institute a B.D.S. boycott last year. But the membership of the People's Food Co-op in Ann Arbor, Michigan voted down a motion to support the B.D.S. movement in 2007 by a ratio of 3 to 1, as did the Food Co-Op Port Townsend in Washington because its rules don't permit the coop to boycott products from an entire country.

Doug Walter, who has been the membership director at the Davis Food Co-op in California for 22 years, said his coop's board voted down the endorsement because only 15 percent of its members supported the move.

"A grocery store may not be the best way to affect international relations," he said.

Walter added that although the Park Slope Food Coop is larger and more member-driven than most other coops in the U.S., he would be watching whether or not it would vote to hold a referendum.

"It's going to be tremendously interesting to see what happens," he said.

The Park Slope Food Coop was founded in 1973 by young men and women supportive of social movements of the late '60s and early '70s who wanted to make healthy, affordable food available to everyone.