5/31/15 Open Letter to Coop: Suppression of Speech about Boycotting Sodastream

submitted on May 31, 2015 to 

the Park Slope Food Coop’s newsletter, Linewaiters’ Gazette 


Suppression of Speech 

about Boycotting SodaStream

To the Park Slope Food Coop Members:

There was a joint maneuver of the General Coordinators and the General Meeting Chairing Committee at the May, 2015 GM.  The Coordinators wanted to persuade the Board of Directors to approve a coop-wide referendum for a two year suppression of speech about “Israel, Palestine, the Middle East, SodaStream,”BDS-Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions” or boycotts thereof”.  By a vote of 119 to 109, the members attending the GM voted to overrule the decision of the Chairing Committee to add this “emergency” item to the agenda.  The “referendum” was therefore not discussed at the May 26th GM nor did the Board vote on it.

So what was the emergency?  That some members, in an unprecedented action, had disrupted the April meeting because they objected to a presentation about boycotting SodaStream products?  These products should be boycotted because of the exploitative policies of SodaStream’s owners, formerly in the Occupied Palestinian West Bank and now in the Palestinian Bedouin region of Israel.

This attempt to remove the right to free speech, a right protected by the United States Constitution, is unworthy of those who have proposed it.   The proposal appears to be an action by the General Coordinators to join those who want to stop discussion about Israeli policies and their impact on the Palestinian people.  We saw a similar alliance in 2012 when the most senior General Coordinator called on members to “protect the Coop by voting NO” to have a coop-wide referendum about  boycotting  Israeli products.(See Gazette archive for March 8, 2012, page 5)

In proposing to suppress all speech on these issues at the General Meeting , the General Coordinators’ “cover letter” cited the disruption of the April 28th, 2015 GM as a justification.  They thereby conflated the intimidating, thuggish actions of those who oppose the boycott of SodaStream with the reasoned presentation of those of us who propose the boycott.  By implication, we are blamed for raising the issue.

According to the GM report from the Disciplinary Committee, as of May 26th, 2015, only PSFC Members for BDS had made complaints against the disrupters.  Instead of trying to shut down all discussion of the SodaStream boycott at the GM for two years, why hadn’t the General Coordinators taken any action to discipline the disrupters?

The attempt to suppress speech about Israel’s persecution of Palestinians is part of an international strategy to silence those who oppose that persecution.  We have seen similar tactics at Northeastern University (Yvonne Abraham:” Stifling Student Voices” Boston Globe, June 13th, 2013); Florida Atlantic University (Robert Tanen “ADL Clarifies Its Position on FAU” Sun Sentinel, June 13 2013); and at Brooklyn College (Stanley Fish:” Academic Freedom in Brooklyn” NY Times February 11, 2013) among many other attacks on free speech about Palestine.

We must all be vigilant to protect our right to discuss food justice issues at the Park Slope Food Coop.  And the General Coordinators, our employees, must do the same.

Naomi Brussel,

PSFC Members for BDS