A Big Fight Over Israel at a Small Food Co-op


On Tuesday night, members of the Park Slope Food Co-op in Brooklyn voted against having a referendum on whether to boycott Israeli products, a largely symbolic move that would have taken a few items like hummus and paprika off the shelves if enacted. The debate pitted the co-op’s more radical members against Israel supporters and those who want to keep politics out of their beloved cheap food store.

The debate featured the usual arguments for and against the boycott of Israeli products. It’s a peaceful way to put pressure on the Israeli government to end the occupation of Palestine, say some, countered with others saying that Israel is being vilified unfairly and these measures are meant to destroy the Jewish state.

But the real shanda is not within the co-op itself, a private business where only its members, who have to work a three-hour shift each month, are allowed to shop. The problem is the New York City politicians who have gone out of their way to denounce even discussing such a thing, and the local media’s decision to give these hacks airtime.

The co-op is a private entity, and a boycott would have no effect on the general public. However, on Tuesday morning, the New York Times ran a story showing how three Democrats who will likely run for Mayor in 2013–City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer–lambasted the push to boycott Israeli products; Stringer called it anti-Semitic. But these people aren’t speaking as co-op members with a dog in the fight (only de Blasio, who is not a member, even lives in the borough of Brooklyn). They are speaking as candidates trying to win the Jewish vote.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has a record of telling businesses what food they can and can’t sell, also denounced the plan in the Times piece. This is his last term, which will end in 2013, and he has not indicated whether he will run for another office.

These politicians, regardless of their non-participation in the co-op, are still entitled to their opinions. The question is: Why has the Times given their opinions such prominence when the vote does not affect the public but only those members of that co-op?

The piece is a demonstration of several sad facts about the newspaper. One, it serves as a free microphone for prominent politicians to promote their positions whether or not they are relevant to actual news in order to advance their campaigns. Two, the paper aims to discredit criticism of Israel or an organized protest against the Israeli occupation even if that protest would have no impact on the public at large. It featured no political voices in support of the vote. Would it have been too much to call City Councilman Charles Barron, who may have spoken in favor of the boycott, or at least explained why people wanted to boycott these products? He’s a Democratic politician, too, and is running for a Brooklyn House of Representatives seat.

A previous article in the Times did raise interesting questions about the co-op’s debate. The more progressive faction of the co-op saw the boycott of Israeli products as following the tradition of past food boycotts such as the one against apartheid in South Africa. But those who were against the boycott represented a change in the co-op and, of course, in the neighborhood of Park Slope, the Times stated. It is no longer a cheap haven for idealistic radicals. Park Slope is now an expensive Brooklyn neighborhood, mocked for its armies of well-to-do moms parading down Seventh Avenue clutching a latte in one hand and pushing a stroller in the other. The co-op, for them, isn’t a place for a food justice. It is a place to get epicurean goods at a nice price. The Times’ coverage should have ended there until actual news regarding the vote happened.

My own feelings about boycotting Israeli products are mixed. I think sometimes it is appropriate, but in general I’m skeptical of sweeping campaigns to cut off economic activity with any state, because it can do more harm than good. Further, a blanket boycott of all Israeli goods, I believe, is impractical.

But that is hardly the point here. If my household were to decide not buy Israeli products, I shouldn’t expect to hear politicians rallying against that private decision on what to consume and what not to consume in order to promote themselves. And if any of them had a personal problem with my household’s decision, I should expect that the Times would have more important things to cover.

The same goes for the Park Slope Food Co-op.

Ari Paul is a contributor to Free Speech Radio News and the Indypendent. His articles have also appeared in The NationThe GuardianZ Magazine and The American Prospect.




November 30, 2015
Henry Giroux
Trump’s Embrace of Totalitarianism is America’s Dirty Little Secret
Omur Sahin Keyif
An Assassination in Turkey: the Killing of Tahir Elci
Robert Fisk
70,000 Kalashnikovs: Cameron’s “Moderate” Rebels
Jamie Davidson
Distortion, Revisionism & the Liberal Media
Norman Pollack
Israel and ISIS: Needed, a Thorough Accounting
Robert Hunziker
The Looming Transnational Battlefield
Ahmed Gaya
Breaking the Climate Mold: Fighting for the Planet and Justice
Matt Peppe
Alan Gross’s Improbable Tales on 60 Minutes
Colin Todhunter
India – Procession of the Dead: Shopping Malls and Shit
Roger Annis
Canada’s New Climate-Denying National Government
Binoy Kampmark
Straining the Republic: France’s State of Emergency
Jack Rasmus
Japan’s 5th Recession in 7 Years
Charles R. Larson
Twofers for Carly Fiorina
John Dear
An Eye for an Eye Makes the Whole World Blind
Weekend Edition
November 27-29, 2015
Andrew Levine
The Real Trouble With Bernie
Gary Leupp
Ben Carson, Joseph in Egypt, and the Attack on Rational Thought
John Whitbeck
Who’s Afraid of ISIS?
Michael Brenner
Europe’s Crisis: Terror, Refugees and Impotence
Ramzy Baroud
Forget ISIS: Humanity is at Stake
Pepe Escobar
Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
Vijay Prashad
Showdown on the Syrian Border
Dave Lindorff
Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar
Colin Todhunter
Class, War and David Cameron
Jean Bricmont
The Ideology of Humanitarian Imperialism
Dan Glazebrook
Deadliest Terror in the World: the West’s Latest Gift to Africa
Mark Hand
Escape From New York: the Emancipation of Activist Cecily McMillan
Karl Grossman
Our Solar Bonanza!
Mats Svensson
Madness in Hebron: Hashem Had No Enemies, Yet Hashem Was Hated
Walter Brasch
Terrorism on American Soil
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Bears, Dreaming and the Frontier of Wonder
Michael Welton
Yahweh is Not Exactly Politically Correct
Joseph Natoli
A Politics of Stupid and How to Leave It Behind
John Cox
You Should Fear Racism and Xenophobia, Not Syrian Refugees or Muslims
Barrie Gilbert
Sacrificing the Grizzlies of Katmai Park: the Plan to Turn Brooks Camp Into a Theme
Rev. William Alberts
The Church of “Something Else” in “an Ecclesiastical Desert”
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Bank Crimes Pay
Elliot Murphy
Cameron’s Syrian Strategy
Gareth Porter
How Terror in Paris Calls for Revising US Syria Policy
Thomas S. Harrington
Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe and the Death of Ezra Schwartz
Michael Perino
The Arc of Instability
Yves Engler
Justin Trudeau and Canada’s Mining Industry
Tom H. Hastings
ISIS and Changing the Game
Lars Jørgensen
Vive la Résistance
John Halle
A Yale Education as a Tool of Power and Privilege
Norman Pollack
Syrian “Civil War”?: No, A Proxy War of Global Confrontation