More than 1,600 members of the Park Slope Food Co-op gathered together at Brooklyn Tech High School on Tuesday to submit their paper ballots on the issue of whether or not the 39-year-old food store should hold a membership-wide referendum to join the anti-Israel international boycott.
The debate has been tearing apart the membership in recent weeks, creating bad feelings among neighbors, and leaving many wondering why a grocery store is mixing up selling organic and other wholesome foods at good prices with international politics.
The membership voted overwhelmingly against the boycott, with 1,005 votes against the motion and 653 votes in favor of holding the referendum. “A boycott should be by consensus, and there is obviously not that” Jeff Prant, a co-op member, said after the vote.
Those in support of the boycott want to see the PSFC join an international organization called BDS; Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions whose function is to put pressure on Israel to change the way it deals with the Palestinian issue through the use of boycotts. Although they were defeated at the ballot box, some of the boycott’s supporters feel satisfied that a lot of their goals were still met.
“The vote tonight has shown us that we still have a lot of work ahead in the fight to end Israeli oppression of Palestinians” said Liz Roberts, a member of the pro-boycott lobby. “However, despite our loss in tonight’s vote, we have succeeded in one of our goals: B.D.S. has entered into the consciousness of thousands of co-op members and has even made it into mainstream conversations.”
Before the vote was held almost 50 people tried to persuade the membership which way to vote by giving speeches over the course of about 90 minutes. Those against the boycott said that a store whose function is to sell food is not the correct venue to decide foreign policy.
“These people are insidious, and they destroy communities” said Peter Raskin, a co-op member speaking about the boycott lobby. “If they have a problem with Israel, let them go to the State Department.”
Even if a boycott had succeeded its effect would have been largely symbolic, since there are relatively few Israeli-made products on sale at the PSFC. Joe Holz, a founder of the co-op says those products are just a seltzer-water maker, organic paprika, two styles of kosher marshmallows and three varieties of tapenade and pesto.
Ironically, the manufacturer of the tapenade and pesto is a company called PeaceWorks, whose mission is to promote peace among enemies through the means of economic cooperation. Its products use olives grown in Palestinian villages, glass jars manufactured in Egypt and sun-dried tomatoes from Turkey.
“The key to resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is greater understanding of each other, not greater polarization”
said Joshua Scherz, president of PeaceWorks Foods.