Co-oping BDS, part II: Filling up the Israeli boycart

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The Park Slope Food Coop is probably the only grocery store in America where non-members must: a) accompany a legit member and b) sign in with a photo ID, pledging not to buy any products. There’s just something about exclusivity that makes the kale chips taste better.

“You’re on alert,” the woman at the Coop entrance told me, not unkindly, when I swiped my membership card. Having missed my previous work shift bagging dried nuts and fruit, I am a member in poor standing (which is to say I am basically your average Cooper). Still I was able to bring my friend Jesse Bacon as my non-shopping guest.

Jesse had a cameo in my first installment (“Co-oping BDS, part I: Progressive except Palestine”), which covered the campaign to have the Coop join the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. He’s a longtime justice-in-Palestine activist who is involved in Jewish Voice for Peace’s campaign to get the pension fund TIAA-CREF to divest from Motorola and other companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian Territories. For this second installment, Jesse was a natural choice to help push the Israeli boycart through the aisles of the Park Slope Food Coop. Here’s some of what we found on the shelves.

Item #1: SodaStream, a home seltzer machine made in the West Bank settlement of Mishor Edomim. Situated atop land confiscated from Palestinians, Mishor Edomim is an industrial park where manufacturers receive tax breaks and other incentives from the Israeli government. Like most settlement goods, SodaStream is mislabeled as a product of “Israel,” although Mishor Edomim is beyond Israel’s internationally recognized boundaries. Generally speaking, in addition to violating international law, settlements splice up the West Bank with a system of settler-only roads that cage Palestinians into ever-shrinking areas; create a two-tiered legal system of military rule for the occupied and civilian rule for the occupiers; and appropriate scarce Palestinian water resources.

“Earth friendly,” reads the SodaStream packaging. “Show you care about the environment.”

Item #2: Osem is an Israeli company that uses packaging and machinery that are made in a West Bank settlement. Osem also donates part of their proceeds to the Jewish National Fund (JNF), an Israeli semi-governmental organization that was and is a key player in Palestinian dispossession and legal discrimination against Palestinian-Israelis. Briefly: As detailed by political geographer Oren Yiftachel (and others), before 1948 Jews owned about 8.5% of British mandatory Palestine; afterward, with the forced flight of 700,000 Palestinians, Israel (in partnership with the JNF) simply nationalized refugee land and expropriated Palestinian-Israeli land. (Non-Jews are now effectively barred from owning or renting land in 80% of Israel.) The JNF also planted forests over destroyed Palestinian villages to prevent refugees from returning to their land. Today, teaming up with the Israeli army, the JNF repeatedly razes Bedouin villages in the Negev in southern Israel, officially termed “Judaization”: the project of forcing Bedouins into state-constructed ghettos.

Be sure to watch the video of ultra Orthodox anti-Zionists Jews in Williamsburg denouncing the JNF while little boys with peyos (ear curls) gleefully toss Osem crackers into a flaming trashcan.

Inside the Israeli boycart: settlement-made SodaStream; made-in-Israel Wylde pretzels (although the back of the package doesn’t say so); and Sabra hummus, co-owned by the Strauss Group, an Israeli company that is a popular boycott campaign target. For decades, the Strauss Group has adopted Israeli soldiers in the Golani brigade, notorious for their human rights violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, especially during the 2008–2009 assault on Gaza in which 1389 Palestinians were killed, including 318 children. The Strauss Group provides the Golani brigade with care packages.

Who knows what else might go inside the Israeli boycart? There are rumors of Israeli paprika, perhaps persimmons and bathsalts. Yet, Coop organizers stressed that they don’t want to focus their campaign on de-shelving specific Israeli products (which, by the way, take a significant amount of research to identify due to mislabeling). Their strategy is to focus on the need for democratic process, and so their immediate goal is to bring about a Coop-wide vote.

Coop BDS organizer Nat Pinkerton, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit worker, lamented that much of the coverage of the Park Slope campaign has focused on organizers’ uncertainty about which Israeli products the Coop carries. “It feels important, but it also feels irrelevant,” Pinkerton told me, emphasizing the symbolic over the material. “Boycotting means being part of a movement at large.”

This post originally appeared on the website Waging Nonviolence.

6 Responses

  1. teta mother me
    August 22, 2011, 4:50 pm

    Bed Bath and Beyond in the USA carries the SodaStream products.


  2. justicewillprevail
    August 22, 2011, 5:00 pm

    A soda stream which shows you care about the environment. Oh, the irony and farce of it.

  3. annie
    August 22, 2011, 8:18 pm

    thanks Kiera, always appreciate your reports on bds and the Park Slope Food Coop. vote on it!

  4. Mikhael
    August 22, 2011, 11:10 pm

    I’ve been forced out of the Slope to Bay Ridge by ridiculous rents, and I let my coop membership lapse long ago (I never reclaimed my deposit either), but maybe I’ll try to rejoin to get that seltzer-making thingie.

    Sabra Salads is an American brand, by the way (although it was founded by expat Israelis). I’m a bit annoyed at them though for relocating from Astoria, Queens for anti-union Richmond, but whatever.

  5. Mikhael
    August 22, 2011, 11:23 pm

    Come to think of it, it’s still not worth re-joining the Coop and putting up with all their BS. Luckily, I can always find Osem products such as Bamba at the Yemeni all night news kiosk on Montague Street and other Israeli-made products like Beit ha Shitta canned pickles (Hamutzim) at the numerous small Arab-owned grocery stores that dot 5th Avenue from Bay Ridge to Sunset Park to the outer edges of Park Slope.

  6. GuiltyFeat
    August 23, 2011, 4:01 am

    Look I’m all for boycotting settlement goods and I’ve been doing it for years, but when you write things like “rumors of Israeli paprika, perhaps persimmons and bathsalts” you reduce the whole idea to something petty and ridiculous rather than noble and empowering.

    When BDS embraces a two-state solution and throws out the racists that use it for cover, it might become a force for good instead of this splintered, singalong, silliness scanning persimmons in the organic aisle for clues to their origin.

    And that picture of the basket with some Sodastream bottles, humus and pretzels just looks like the saddest poker night ever!

    “It feels important, but it also feels irrelevant.” Priceless!

    Now, cue a bunch of comments on how BDS must be working as it gets all the ziobots ™ so worked up. Yawn. Who’s up first? Shingo? Taxi? Annie?

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