Sept 2011 GM: Proposal for a BDS Referendum

We propose to hold a referendum vote at the Park Slope Food Coop (PSFC) to determine our participation in the global nonviolent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel’s violation of international law and human rights:

What is a referendum?

  • A referendum is a vote-by-ballot in which all of our many thousands of members have the ability to participate;
  • We must vote in a General Meeting (GM) to hold a referendum. The GM vote decides the way in which we make this decision, while the referendum actually decides the issue.

Why is a referendum vote necessary?

  • Members hold a spectrum of strong feelings in relation to Israel and Palestine, as evidenced by ongoing debate in the The Linewaiter’s Gazette;
  • Carrying Israeli goods without making an explicit decision to do so is, in essence, voting in support of Israel’s actions—without actually taking a vote from membership;
  • The best way to respect the feelings of all members is to take a real vote, assuring that the Coop’s actions align with the wishes of the majority of members.

Why should this vote be made by referendum?

  • A referendum is the most democratic method available to us, and will obtain the most representative results;
  • A referendum allows adequate time for individual research and reflection;
  • A referendum protects individual privacy.

Shouldn’t the Coop stay out of politics?

  • The Coop has always been a political institution by design, using our buying power to support food, social and environmental justice;
  • We have endorsed a number of boycotts, including a 20-year long boycott of South African goods that began the year the Coop opened;
  • Our long history of political activism is evidenced by the fact that we have a “Boycott Policy” to streamline our decision-making around proposed boycotts;
  • This current effort is a continuation of our activist history.

Won’t a referendum on this issue be divisive?

  • Avoiding discussion on an important issue does not build unity—it builds anxiety and mistrust;
  • Using Coop procedures to make a collective decision on this issue provides all members the opportunity to engage in thoughtful dialogue, building respect and understanding in our community;
  • We cannot be concerned only about alienating members who support Israel—we must also be aware of members who have been harmed or disturbed by Israel’s actions. The Coop should remain welcoming to everyone who has feelings about this issue;
  • Our ability to enact a referendum over such an important issue is an excellent indicator of the health of the Coop as a democratic institution and can serve as a model for our larger regional and global communities.

What would the referendum actually call for? How would “Israeli goods” be defined?

  • Determining the exact wording of the referendum is part of the membership’s decision-making process on this issue.
  • We believe that a just and practical framework for the referendum would be to vote on a consumer boycott of products made in Israel or Occupied Palestine or by companies directly profiting from the occupation of the Palestinian territories.
  • By Coop policy, boycotts are renewed annually. We believe that long-term, BDS at the Coop should be valid until the occupation ends, Palestinians’ right of return is respected, and Palestinians enjoy just and peaceful self-determination, or until the international boycott call has ended, whichever comes first.