by Jon Haber
After writing about South Africa for the last week or so, I can feel the tug of international pulling on my interests (especially with regard to the role BDS is playing as a counter to peace efforts in the region itself). But before jumping into the rest of the world, an update on two more victories in the co-op boycott wars.
Most newsworthy (given its size and given the effort BDS activists put into getting them to become the second co-op to boycott Israel) is the unanimous decision by the Sacramento Natural Food Co-op to give boycott the heave ho. But I was also intrigued to read this letter sent to boycott activists by the President of the New Seasons Market Co-op in Portland, Oregon:
"...As a neighborhood grocery store, our first priority is to meet the diverse needs of our customers. Unlike some other grocery chains we are careful not to be the “food police”. We believe that customers vote with their dollars and if a product doesn’t sell well for us, then we discontinue it based on its relative sales movement compared with the overall category sales movement. We are not participating in the boycott and are not meeting with proponents of the boycott. We will, as we have always done, continue to carry the products that meet the many diverse needs of our community.”
Meanwhile, the board of the Olympia Co-op has decided to double down on their boycott policy, refusing to rescind the boycott but agreeing to carry on dialog about this decision as a booby prize to aggrieved members (which now include a former board member camping out at the co-op until the decision is reversed).
Now I know that many (especially me) have been hard on Oly since they made their boycott decision last July, criticizing both the substance of the decision and the underhanded way in which that decision got made. But we should keep in mind that Olympia has played an important role in the bigger game of BDS within a category (in this case, the category of co-ops).
Usually, it takes a couple of years before a BDS project can make its way through a category of civic institution (such as colleges and churches). That’s why BDS was such a big campus phenomenon in 2002-2004 and a church one in 2004-2006 – it simply takes that long for opposition to form and for the real decision makers within these organizations to see past their rhetoric to discover the true, propaganda, war-like nature of a BDS effort masquerading as part of a peace movement.
The one thing that can accelerate this process is excess. Given the distance in time between 2002 when campus divestment projects began and 2009 when they were revived, there was no reason why a new generation of students (and new school administrators) might not have proven vulnerable to divestment lures yet again. But then came the Hampshire Hoax which put school administrations across the nation on notice that just shaking hands with the local BDS group could land you the international news as having your campus join the global BDS project.
In the case of co-ops, Olympia has (without any prodding from anti-boycott activists) served the same purpose as Hampshire, demonstrating to other co-ops what upset they can expect if they push through with a boycott vote (as opposed to the harmony they can equally see demonstrated at co-ops that have rejected boycott such as Davis and Port Townsend).
I have no idea if the locals who are putting so much effort into getting the Oly boycott reversed will eventually succeed (I hope they do). But even as that drama plays out, Sacramento shows that co-ops now understand that boycott does not fit in with the principles of the co-op movement, and New Seasons Market demonstrates that co-ops (like campus administrators) know BDS well enough to not bother giving boycott proposals the time of day.
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