Why I support the Olympia Co-op boycott

on 24 Comments

Dear friends,

The Olympia Food Co-op boycott of Israeli products (except for fair trade olive oil) has generated much controversy and emotion. I do pray for healing and understanding among those who support and those who oppose such a boycott in the community of Olympia, Washington and around the world. All of us must stand together and mourn the loss of life generated by this conflict. May their memories be a blessing.

The Food Co-op and many concerned citizens around the world have asked the question: How do we transform the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the use of nonviolence? What is meaningful action?

While negotiations, lobbying and dialogue occur, those who have been directly impacted by occupation, the Palestinians, have called upon the world to engage in meaningful nonviolent action to apply pressure upon Israel so that Israel cannot conduct the business of occupation as usual. Have we all not seen and read about life in Palestine under occupation? The Goldstone report, B’tselem, Gisha and many other organizations and individuals have documented the systematic violation of Palestinian human rights in the past several years. How do we both construct peace and engage in non-cooperation with policies that systematically violate human rights on a daily basis?

Boycott is a time honored method which was the catalyst that ended legal segregation in the United States. Boycott is the primary tool of those engaged in nonviolent resistance to systematic injustice. Boycott targets unjust policies. It is not about ‘the right to exist’; Everyone has the right to ‘exist’. Rather, boycott is a tool that focuses on the right to live a life free from a policy of land seizure, internal transfer, administrative detention and other forms of violent and harmful actions levied against people who do not want to give up their land.

I want to explain my personal reasons for supporting the decision of the Co-op not to limit their boycott to the West Bank. I believe that the articulation of a position that there is a line that separates products ‘made in the West Bank’ and those ‘made in Israel’ is difficult to stand by if you look deeply at the issue.

1) The mechanics of occupation is not limited to the West Bank. I’m sure you’ve all heard about the 300 bedouin Palestinians made homeless two days ago, in the Negev settlement known as al-Araqib, homes destroyed by the way with a Caterpillar bulldozer flying an Israeli flag. This is an ongoing reality of Palestinian life under occupation, that is, the loss of land. Now, almost 80% of of West Bank land is considered Israeli State land. Palestinian families are continually being driven from their homes.

Furthermore, Israel inside the green line is the agency of occupation and conducts, plans, prepares and executes aspects of the occupation from inside the green line.

2) Israel prevents Palestinian exports from reaching their destination all the time. Trying to sell West Bank products in Israel or abroad is a seriously challenging issue. Bottles are smashed, fruit is left to rot, clothes are ruined. This happens in the intersection of borders. Palestinians and their products have no right to any border passage. All movement of people and goods is controlled by Israel.

3) Lest we forget Gaza and the closure. 60% of Gazans suffer food insecurity. That is truly a stunning number. 90% of the products sold in Gaza come from Israel. Why? No manufacture is allowed in Gaza due to shortages of materials. Farmers are shoot dead in their fields all the time. Fisherman are prevented from fishing. The closure has not been lifted. Hence, the application of boycott until such time as the borders are open and people and goods can come and go according to international standards of passage.

4) While I believe we must be understanding, compassionate, gracious and clear in the use of our language when engaging with those who do not support nonviolent means of conflict transformation such as boycott, BDS is really about focusing on Israel’s occupation of Palestinian towns, villages and farm land including East Jerusalem, the Negev, the Galilee, Ramlah, Jaffo, Lod, Nazereth, Acco and the West Bank. The BDS movement has been very clear about including Palestinians living inside Israel as part of the educational effort around human rights issues facing the Palestinian community inside the green line.

5) All use of anti-Semitic language or rhetoric, or the slandering of others as anti-Semites or self-hating Jews must be opposed. Our common ground, support of those who suffer indignities, should be the focus.

Supporters of boycott are asking people to shift loyalties from partisan support of one side or the other to positions based on universal standards of human rights. Those who support boycott are creating a broad based multifaith and multicultural coalition that crosses boundaries and unites people based on what kinds of behavior should not be tolerated by nation states according to principles of international law.

My own activism includes standards of food justice based on access and human rights in the United States as well as other countries. I do not buy a range of products based on human rights standards. The Food Co-op shares this ethic. Fair Trade standards underlay their decision.

My support for the Olympia Food Co-op is for these reasons. Groups that are limiting their boycott to ‘Israeli settlement products’, or to corporations that profit from occupation (such as the JVP campaign) can still reach out in support of those who have taken a broader stance. This is a movement issue.

Finally, there is the matter of Rachel Corrie. Like Rachel, those who decided to boycott Israeli products have taken a meaningful action that supports their desire to end occupation. They are moved to action from on the ground experiences. As a forty year veteran of this issue, I, too have witnessed what is happening on the ground and I am moved to be part of the effort to change Israeli policy. I do this from a love of people. I believe that Jewish tradition stands with me. Not profiting or benefiting from the fruits of violence is a central tenet of a life committed to nonviolence. Since the Jewish state is acting in my name, I am forced to withdraw support for Israeli food products until the closure is lifted, the policy of land seizure ends and negotiations are taken up in a meaningful way. This does not mean I am cutting off my relationships to the people I love on both sides. May all efforts to construct peace continue. Meaningful nonviolent resistance to injustice is part of the equation.

The Food Co-op community went beyond endless discussions of exactly how one should act to resolve conflict, and they acted. Whether people agree or disagree with the particulars of any given action, at least support the courage of people who are willing to act in behalf of those who are suffering on a daily basis. May the process of reparative justice truly begin.

Lynn Gottlieb

About Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb

Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb is leader of Fellowship of Reconciliation Peacewalks and Director of Shomer Shalom Network for Jewish Nonviolence [email protected]; [email protected]

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24 Responses

  1. Citizen
    August 4, 2010, 8:06 am

    Well said, Rabbi Gottlieb. Your eloquence should put and end to those who argue that “the hope for magic by force implied in careless and unspecific BDS is a vanity, an arm-chair chicken-hawk approach.”

    Rachel Corrie certainly not a chicken-hawk. She put her body where her mouth was–and a US-made Caterpillar bulldozer broke her back. At least two other young Americans have been maimed since then for standing up to be counted, and one has been executed on the high seas. The perp was Israel.

    And yes, existence is a red herring, as well as a barely veiled painting of
    those advocating BDS as “anti-semites.” Everybody has a right to exist.

  2. Oscar
    August 4, 2010, 8:19 am

    Rabbi Gottlieb makes an important point. BDS is not an attempt to question “the right to exist.”. It’s as absurd a statement as saying that Americans are questioning Arizona’s right to exist by taking action against its racist immigration laws.

    • Citizen
      August 4, 2010, 8:41 am

      And as absurd as saying Arizona has no right to support the Feds implementing our common immigration laws–a few states in the NE actually have an existing agreed and currently working partnership with the Feds in this matter–it’s been a pilot project. Time to extend it to all states, especially the border states?

      • Citizen
        August 4, 2010, 8:51 am

        Further, delegation of authority by ICE to partner with local police elsewhere has been on-going for some time. If our federal regime does not want to effectively implement legislated immigration laws then Congress should change those laws, not ignore them by its de facto policy.
        But what the hey, Congress has unconstitutionally delegated its sole right to declare law for ages now and yet we are at war and people keep dying
        and the war is creating debt onto all future generations.

  3. rmd
    August 4, 2010, 9:10 am

    Gottleib’s arguments work fine to show that the broader boycott is substantively reasonable, but they don’t address whether it’s good tactics.

    BDS has two goals: to shift attitudes in the boycotters’ home countries, and to pressure Israel. As far as shifting attitudes go, the settlements are Israel’s weak spot; friends of Palestine should be turning the conversation to them at every opportunity. As far as pressuring Israel goes, clearly the BDS movement can have little effect at this time; what little it has would best be directed to the narrower target of the settlements.

    Occupying “Judea and Samaria” would be a lot less fun if it wasn’t so easy to build settlements there.

    Alternatively, if you want to do the broader boycott, tie it to the Gaza blockade. “While Israel refuses to let Gaza export, we refuse Israeli exports.”

  4. Richard Witty
    August 4, 2010, 9:57 am

    Poorly stated and thought out.

    Boycott, especially imprecise boycott, is not non-violent civil disobedience, but a shunning.

    Specific boycott, identifying specific policies and/or criteria, may be a relevant basis of a humane boycott, but a general boycott is something different.

    I think of it as a repetition of the original wrong, a second wrong that does not make a right. (A precise boycott could achieve making a right.)

    Further, even if your and the Olympia Coop’s motives are “pure”, there are MANY supporters of the boycott movement that mean the boycott to be a means to revolution, to overthrow (rather than reform) the Israeli state. Which motivation IS the character of the boycott in fact?

    Is it the BDS version of “hasbara”, trotting out the idealists to front for the revolutionists?

    • rmd
      August 4, 2010, 11:10 am

      Boycott, especially imprecise boycott, is not non-violent civil disobedience …

      … nor any kind of civil disobedience, but lawful exercise of free choice. Got a problem with that?

      I think of [boycott] as a repetition of the original wrong

      You can think of the OFC boycott as a repetition of forcible exile, seizure of lands, denial of freedom of movement, killing and wounding of farmers, etc., etc., if you want to, but that might say less about it than about you.

      Which motivation IS the character of the boycott in fact?

      Why ask when you can just look it up?

      …the boycott will end when: 1. Israel ends its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantles the Wall; 2. Israel recognizes the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; 3. Israel respects, protects and promotes the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their
      homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194. (Olympia Food Co-op, Board of Directors, Boycott Announcement

      • Richard Witty
        August 4, 2010, 1:04 pm

        Until the Olympia Coop renounces its general boycott of my cousins of cousins products, I am boycotting the Olympia Coop.

        Hopefully this will not become a mass movement as the cooperative movement deserves all the support it can muster.

        The Olympia coop sets a bad precedent for itself. Either it will only boycott Israeli goods and no other examples of offensive materials, in which case it is arbitrarily selecting Israel.

        Or, it will boycott first Israeli products, alienating 10% of its membership, then Turkish, Lebanese, Russian, and Iranian products when it is discovered that hundreds of thousands of locals in those communities are brutally denied civil rights.

        Then it will be forced to boycott American products.

        Odd, yes.

      • Mooser
        August 4, 2010, 7:40 pm

        Richard, what is this new “cousins” bull shit you’ve latched on to?
        All of a sudden certain people are now your cousins. Can you explain? Is there a new definition of cousins I don’t know about?

        Or is this just another of your senile passive-agressive ploys to make out like somehow this is all hurting you personally.

        The furthest any to humans can be from each other is about fifth cousins, so there is that angle. But that includes the Arabs, too.

      • rmd
        August 5, 2010, 2:33 am

        Well, as you can see, they have a general policy of “honor[ing] nationally recognized boycotts which are called for reasons that are compatible with our goals and mission statement” (Olympia Food Co-op, Boycott Policy), and have previously boycotted “products from China (human rights abuses); products from Norway (whaling abuses);
        products from Colorado (anti gay legislation); Gardenburgers (farmworker abuses) and more” (OFC, Boycott Announcement).

    • James North
      August 4, 2010, 5:17 pm

      Richard: Your first sentence — “poorly stated and thought out” — is insulting to Rabbi Gottlieb. You do go on to disagree with her, but can’t you do it politely, without suggesting she is a poor thinker?
      As far as to how well she stated her case, I suggest you keep your eye trained on your own comments. You often have something to say, but you frequently hit the submit button so quickly that the rest of us have trouble understanding what you mean.

      • Richard Witty
        August 4, 2010, 7:57 pm

        I stated my reasoning why I believed that a general boycott was poorly conceived.

        Israel boycotts Hamas. It is widely criticized for doing so, even though the logic is reasonable. Hamas’ history of gruesome terror, less gruesome but still war criminal shelling of civilians over years.

        Maybe Hamas has changed, really changed. Its asserted widely here, but not convincingly to me.

        There is no way for the boycott movement to avoid addressing the relationship with Hamas, either direct involvement, sympathy, or as cover for political opportunism.

        Rabbi Gottlieb does seek to avoid that quandry.

        I agree with her angst at “how can the condition of Palestinians and
        Gazans continue in this way? Can’t someone do something?”

      • rmd
        August 5, 2010, 2:51 am

        Israel boycotts Hamas.

        No, Israel blockades Gaza.

        It doesn’t just abstain from buying Gazan products, it prevents Gaza from selling to any willing buyer.

        It intervenes not just against Hamas but against the entire population of the strip, with the direct intent of immiserising them, to the indirect purpose that Hamas’s political standing may suffer.

      • Donald
        August 5, 2010, 6:55 am

        “Israel boycotts Hamas. It is widely criticized for doing so, even though the logic is reasonable. Hamas’ history of gruesome terror, less gruesome but still war criminal shelling of civilians over years.”

        I’ve never seen Richard condemn Israeli atrocities in anything close to these terms. Words like “gruesome”, “terror” and “war criminal shelling” simply drop out of his vocabulary when discussing the actions of the state that he worships.

      • Shingo
        August 5, 2010, 7:29 am

        “Israel boycotts Hamas.”

        Doesn’t the dishonesty and sleazy spin from Witty just make you want to throw up?

        Who can name a boycott that involved a siege and blockade of the air, land and sea of the state being boycotted?

        Israel is widely criticized for inflicting collective punishment. I doubt anyone could care less if Israel simply boycotted Hamas. We certainly wouldn’t.

      • Richard Witty
        August 5, 2010, 7:33 am

        And no one would care if the BDS movement was just of individual preference. Its only when it is proposed as a mass shunning, that it shows itself as a threat, a suppression.

        Very sadly, in the name of opposing Palestinian oppression and isolation, solidarity responds by threatening Israeli isolation.

        It looks like a mirror to me, similarity, when what is needed is change, mutual humanization rather than self-justified mutual punishment.

    • Shingo
      August 5, 2010, 7:34 am

      “Boycott, especially imprecise boycott, is not non-violent civil disobedience, but a shunning.”

      Hey fuckwitty. You repeta the same old siatraibes about all manner of boycots and BDS. You oppose bouycotts of Israeli goods becasue you oppose any action that does not indulge and pander to Israel. Of course, being the vile and disgusting liar that you are, you cannot come out and say this so you simply make the fauz argument that the goals are not defined or not specific enough.

      Do you hoenstly beklueve that after all these months of bring exposed time and time again, people don’t see right through you?

      • Richard Witty
        August 5, 2010, 7:49 am

        The majority of Jews in the west are liberal, and sympathetic with Zionism if not overtly supportive, and most critical of many current Israeli policies.

        The FACT that very very few post here, and presumably read here, should indicate to you that you personally and collectively have likely deterred criticism of Israel more than you’ve encouraged it.

        I have to fight through reaction to your innacurate and malevolent accusations to retain my sympathy for Palestinians.

        You publish here. The room is bigger than the posse of posters.

        I honestly and candidly post under my own name. There are periodic statements that I’ve made that I believe in retrospect were over the top in nuance. But, I am far far more aware of the willingness of dissent to misrepresent my views, rather than critically and accurately representing them.

        Maybe the solidarity/Arab community is literally oil and water to Israeli and American liberal. Maybe there is no common political philosophical reference, and the best is quiet (at least as far as Israel is concerned).

        For me, the common thread is humanization of the other. I offer it to solidarity, Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims; and I expect it reciprocally. Otherwise we are oil and water.

  5. rachelgolem
    August 4, 2010, 10:06 am

    Can you say, “Stockholm Syndrome”, boys and girls???

    • Mooser
      August 4, 2010, 7:41 pm

      Rachelgolem, I’m glad you brought that up. It’s about time Zionists started admitting that the techniques used to influence Jewish Israelis are derived from the Stockholm Syndrome. Very perceptive of you to notice.

  6. marcynewman
    August 4, 2010, 11:28 am

    while i am happy to see you publishing more pro-bds material on this website, i am deeply disturbed by the first line of this article. the notion that there can be fair trade coming from a colonizing entity is absurd at best. it really detracts from the overall point that needs to be made in the west about bds and why it is necessary.

    • rmd
      August 4, 2010, 1:27 pm

      the notion that there can be fair trade coming from a colonizing entity is absurd at best.

      Constructive action in situations of power imbalance is what fair trade is about.

      The fair trade olive oil in question is Peace Oil, produced by Palestinians in the Galilee, through Sindyanna of Galilee, or the West Bank, through Green Action or Canaan Fair Trade. Green Action and Canaan Fair Trade “follow the guidelines of the Palestinian Fair Trade Association”. You might expect that a lot of the people who favour the Olympia Food Co-op boycott would also like the idea of providing income to Palestinian agriculture via Peace Oil.

  7. tinywriting
    August 4, 2010, 8:42 pm

    What sound does the Witty turkey make? Goebbels, Goebbels, Goebbels.

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