We are currently asking that the Park Slope Food Coop boycott SodaStream, a water carbonation system currently produced in an illegal settlement in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian West Bank. Below is a statement responding to the undemocratic process that we faced when we placed our agenda item for discussion before Coop members at the April 28, 2015 General Meeting.
On April 28, 2015, six of us from the group Park Slope Food Coop Members For Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (PSFC BDS) began presenting a discussion item about boycotting SodaStream to the Coop’s monthly General Meeting (GM) of about 350 members. SodaStream is a water carbonation system currently produced in an illegal settlement in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian West Bank. We expected some opposition but hoped for a lively and respectful exchange of information.
Our discussion was preliminary to asking the GM to vote to boycott SodaStream. The GM is the decision-making body of the Coop and is open to all 16,000+ members but rarely attended by more than 300-400 at any one time. At a subsequent GM, we would hold a vote on the boycott and those attending the meeting would cast their ballots.
At the outset of the April 28th GM, a supporter of Israeli policies tried to prevent our discussion on the grounds that SodaStream intended to end operations at its West Bank factory and move all manufacturing to the Bedouin region inside the Israeli 1948 borders. However, our presentation was aware of SodaStream’s anticipated move and our discussion would address the Israeli exploitation of Palestinian Bedouin people and their lands and as well as this company’s ongoing and unjust labor practices. After consulting amongst itself, the Chairing Committee allowed our presentation to begin.
Within 4 minutes of our presentation, opposition members exploded into jeers and catcalls as our discussion included a power-point presentation illustrating how SodaStream is produced under Israeli Occupation. Many of them jumped out of their seats as images of maps of the West Bank and photos of Israeli military abuse against Palestinian civilians revealed the realities of the Occupation. The meeting quickly became unmanageable with verbally abusive shouts and insults coming from the supporters of Israeli policy. They came within inches of us, yelling that we were “anti-semitic,” “anti-Jewish,” and “lying” claiming that the images of military oppression were “out of context.”
Several of the disruptors mounted the stage in a further attempt to block the images on the screen. Members of the Chairing Committee and of the Board of Directors asked that we stop showing the photos but we resisted the pressure to censor our presentation and accede to mob rule. One of us at the microphone said, “This is what the Occupation looks like.” The atmosphere became more chaotic and quite intimidating. On two separate occasions, a male disruptor pulled out the cables of the projector. We were also concerned about our computer’s safety as it housed our power-point presentation and two disruptors began verbally harassing our presentor who was operating it.
The entire Chairing Committee, several members of the Board of Directors and one of the Coop managers struggled for close to 45 minutes to bring the meeting under control. Their initial pleas for respect and cooperation turned to threats to eject disruptors and suspend or revoke their Coop membership.
The majority of the audience members finally began chanting, “Let them speak! Let them speak!” In response, the disruptors decided to be seated, including those who tried to block the images.
We continued our presentation again but continued to be interrupted several times by taunts and abusive outbursts, which the Chairing Committee was unable to control. One of us responded, “You are being rude. This is unacceptable!” to the disruptors. The majority of our allotted discussion time was eaten away by our opposition’s antics. We rushed to complete our presentation so that the audience could still engage in a dialogue.
Around ten members alternated speaking for and against boycotting SodaStream. A particularly eloquent Jewish woman spoke about being raised a Zionist and aspiring to become an Israeli fighter pilot as a youth. Her family moved to the US. She said that her understanding of Palestinian reality changed when she returned to Israel as a young adult. She opened her arms to the audience, “YOU—this sort of behavior made me see things differently,” and helped end her support for Israeli policies.
Suddenly there was no time left. Members voted not to extend the meeting. The disruptors effectively prevented a full and fair discussion leaving the air thick with hostility.
This disturbing and intimidating experience underscored the need for the Coop’s leadership to discipline the members who disrupted the meeting in such a disrespectful way. No such action to derail the democratic process has ever happened in the Coop’s 42 years until now. The oppositions’ antics threaten the very foundations of democratic process upon which the Coop is founded.
We are calling on the Chairing Committee, the Board and staff to submit complaints against these members to the Coop’s Disciplinary Committee. We also asked for a meeting with all of them to discuss how to avert such disruptions in the future. We instituted complaints against three disruptors. Our group and our supporters have submitted letters, which appear in the Coop newsletter, The Linewaiters’ Gazette. We have submitted a request to the General Meeting Agenda Committee for a vote on the boycott of SodaStream and have asked their counsel.
The press approached us to discuss our experience at the April GM and our SodaStream campaign. It’s important that the public be aware that SodaStream’s ongoing unethical labor practices continue regardless of relocation. And how while SodaStream positively spins their relocation to Lehavim in Naqab (Negev), in reality Israeli policies will forcibly displace Palestinian Bedouins there and evict them from their land. So SodaStream will remain complicit in the Occupation.
This is a crucial time for the Park Slope Food Coop, a place we all cherish. The Coop is more than a place to shop for cheap groceries. We take our Mission Statement seriously and honor our long history of integrity and collective action for food justice.
We call upon all members to engage in fair, respectful communication over this difficult topic. We call upon the Coop leadership to take a principled stand in support of a free, fair and safe process. And we continue to call for collective, non-violent action for human rights and food justice.