Presentation of March 2012 Proposal

Download the handout from the 3/27 General Meeting. And read the text of the presentation made to GM attendees:

We’re Coop members who’ve come together over deep concerns about human rights abuses and the belief that our coop community continues to have a role to play in the struggle for justice.  We began this campaign to offer solidarity with Palestinians struggling for liberation and peace. Palestinians suffer tremendously, a fact well-hidden from Americans. The dominant narrative in the mainstream media is that this is a conflict between equal sides, obscuring the fact that Israel is a massive military power, funded with billions of our tax dollars, brutally dominating Palestinians and colonizing their land.

We do not hear about the indefinite detention of thousands, including children. We do not hear of the 24 Palestinians on hunger strike right now, one young woman imminently dying. We do not hear that Israelis dominate the aquifer, consuming per person more than four times the water that Palestinians do. We do not hear about settler and soldier beatings and killings that go unpunished.

We do not hear about the 750 check points obstructing Palestinians’ access to emergency medical care, jobs and loved ones, requiring they carry the equivalent of South Africa’s passbooks, while Israelis and settlers move with ease on a separate road system. We don’t hear about the most arable land being annexed or villages being carved down the middle by a massive wall, fracturing families, and keeping farmers from crops.

We don’t hear of the 22,000 homes bulldozed to make way for illegal settlements, or to make life so unbearable that Palestinians will leave. We don’t hear that when Gaza, a large open-air prison, was bombed 3 years ago, 400 children were murdered. We don’t hear of the million olive trees destroyed, depriving Palestinians of a main source of income. We never hear that 3 former Israeli prime ministers have compared the situation to apartheid.

Yes, there’s terrible injustice in many places including the U.S. If there were boycotts against other human rights abusers we would want to vote to support these boycotts. Right now we are responding to an existing call for Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions or BDs. This call comes from Palestinian civil society, one being honored all over the world by unions, universities, political parties, government pension funds, municipalities, and supermarkets. People like Desmond Tutu, Alice Walker, Brian Eno, Bjork, Jean Luc Goddard, Elvis Costello, Adrienne Rich, Roger Waters and many others support BDS.

You’ve heard that individuals should just opt not to buy Israeli products, but collective action is what makes boycotts effective. You’ve heard that we’re divisive and are trying to destroy the coop, but our efforts to respect people harmed or horrified by Israel’s actions, have been met with threats, curses, spitting, slander and violence.  What is more destructive to the Coop? Voting whether or not to join a global, nonviolent movement for peace, justice and the adherence to international law, or suppressing a vote because some fear the results?

You’ve heard absurd charges that we’re anti-Semitic or in cases like mine, self-hating Jews because we dare to speak out against the actions of the state of Israel. This tactic is used to deflect from the arguments of Israel’s critics. Objecting to a state’s policies is not an attack on religion or identity. You’ve heard that we should allow ‘dialogue’ to lead to peace, but what can ‘dialogue’ and ‘negotiations’ accomplish between two parties with unequal power? Israel continues its abuses with impunity. We need to exert nonviolent, external pressure to bring Israel to the table and respect human rights and international law.

Many claim to know how the membership feels about the issue yet only a referendum can reveal the actual will of the membership. A regular GM vote cannot be representative of our 16,000-member Coop. Even a well-attended GM like this one only includes a small percentage of our membership. It’s impossible to ensure that this group’s views represent the wider membership. Only a full vote is truly democratic and in keeping with Coop values and precedents. This issue has a history of polarization, social pressure and heated exchange. A referendum allows people to vote their conscience with privacy and time for personal research and reflection. Voting ‘yes’ to referendum is not a ‘yes’ to boycott. It simply allows every voice to be heard.

Some think the coop is just a place for cheap organic produce. But coops are political by definition. Not simply buying clubs, coops offer an alternative to a profit-driven and environmentally destructive food industry.  Food is political. Who grows it, who profits, who does and doesn’t get to eat it.  A referendum on BDS is completely consistent with the rich history of our Coop taking political action. The Coop participated in boycotts of South Africa to end apartheid, Colorado to protest anti-gay legislation, California grapes in support of farm workers, Nestle and Coke for their abuses, and Flaum Appetizing, for violating worker-rights. The Coop has always acted on issues of food justice.

Coop neutrality is impossible.  Carrying Israeli goods while a respected call for boycott exists is an act of crossing a global picket line, supporting Israel’s crimes without consulting the entire membership. Flaum workers came and asked us to change our course of action (by de-shelving Flaum products), not to act from a so-called “neutral” position. Millions of Palestinians are represented by the BDS call. They can’t come and ask for our support as Flaum workers did, but their call for boycott is the same kind of plea. We ask for a referendum on their behalf. Referendum is the most democratic means at our disposal. The debate over the past 3 years should be proof enough that hearing from a majority of Coop members on this issue is the fairest way to resolve this conflict.  If disputes like whether to sell beer or meat resulted in referenda, surely an issue in our community with this much passionate controversy on a question of great global significance has earned a referendum. A ‘yes’ on referendum is a vote to preserve the democratic nature of the Coop.

We propose that the coop hold a referendum to decide if we should join the international Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement to support Palestinian human rights.

 As initiated by Palestinian civil society, the international BDS movement has been joined by many organizations and individuals.  We know that this is an issue that many members feel strongly about. Through a referendum, every member can vote on whether or not the Coop should join as well.  This proposal will allow us to vote in a GM on whether we will decide the BDS question via a referendum.