Yuli Edelstein at the Park Slope Food
Co-op last December (Photo: Stop BDS at
the Park Slope Food Coop)
Advocates for Israel are crowing over their victory this week at the Park Slope Food Co-op, as a measure that would have put the question of boycotting Israeli products to a vote failed, 60-40.
But when you look closely at the forces aligned against the Park Slope Food Co-op Members for BDS, it becomes clear that the pro-BDS forces were outmatched in resources and political clout--which makes the 40% vote garnered that much more impressive. What would the vote have been without the distorting noise that preceded it?
The Jewish Week’s Doug Chandler reports on how the “drive to defeat a proposed boycott of Israeli goods...resembled an election campaign”:
One reason for the size of the crowd was the concerted effort mounted by a number of groups to boost the attendance of pro-Israel members of the co-op, said Poupko, director of Israel and international affairs at the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.
JCRC worked with rabbis in Brownstone Brooklyn and More Hummus, Please, the co-op faction opposed to BDS, to draw attention to the vote and craft the right message, Poupko said. In essence, she added, the message conveyed the idea “that BDS does nothing to promote peace and that it’s bad for the co-op.”
Toward that end, the ad-hoc coalition of groups distributed flyers, posters, e-mail blasts and postcards with the same design and the same language. Aimed at appealing to a progressive audience, a large part of Brownstone Brooklyn, the material said, “Say yes to a Jewish state. Yes to a Palestinian state. No to BDS...”
In the past few days, JCRC also solicited statements from elected officials in the area denouncing the BDS movement, Poupko said. Among the nine leaders who provided statements are U.S. Reps. Jerrold Nadler and Yvette Clarke, both Democrats who represent parts of Brownstone Brooklyn.
So the loss for BDS advocates becomes a lot more clearer after reading that. They were up against the full force of the Israel lobby in New York, which successfully partnered with Park Slope-area “progressives” to defeat BDS activists.
The JCRC, as I’ve explained here, is an influential organization that has close ties to New York’s ruling establishment. The fact that they successfully solicited statements against BDS from elected officials, probably with little effort, is a demonstration of their influence. Their budget last year was over $3 million, and they are part of the Israel Action Network, the $6 million initiative created at the urging of the Israeli government that aims to combat BDS efforts.
The JCRC wasn’t the only organization that worked with anti-BDS Co-op members to defeat the measure for a referendum on boycotting Israeli products. The Anti-Defamation League and Stand With Us, the right-wing Israeli government-linked group, also played a role in organizing against BDS efforts, according to the Israel Action Network.
It was hardly a fair fight. Sure, pro-BDS members of the Co-op had some prominent backing from the likes of Alice Walker, but that’s hardly enough to combat the full force of the lobby, which successfully persuaded elected officials to come out strongly against the boycott. It's likely the vote would have been a lot closer had Barbara Mazor, the leader of the Co-op's anti-BDS "More Hummus, Please" group, not had the help of deep-pocketed and influential organizations.
All of this is to say that the defeat of the BDS measure at Park Slope does not bode well for the Israel lobby. The money and time spent, and connections to elected officials, did not mean an overwhelming victory for those against BDS.
Here’s the thing: It doesn't actually matter if the Coop boycotts Israel or not. Just having the debate is a symbolic victory for the pro-boycott camp. It might once have been safe to assume that in Park Slope, Brooklyn, progressive Jews would side with their more conservative co-religionists on matters pertaining to Israel. No longer.
Back in December, Israeli Minister of Information and Diaspora Yuli Edelstein, a settler who calls the colony of Neve Daniel home, paid the coop a visit. A few rows away from the shelves of settlement-made Sodastream, Edelstein posed for a picture holding a tub of Sabra Humus and a bag of vegan marshmallows (part Israeli-owned and Israeli manufactured, respectively). Edelstein’s visit cemented an inescapable truth: the Park Slope Food Coop had officially become a key site for BDS organizing and opposition, a success in and of itself for the BDS movement. BDS had permeated even Park Slope--"the heart of the Jewish crunchy liberal establishment," in the tongue-in-cheek words of Jewish Voice for Peace activist Jesse Bacon...
Feldman rightly concludes:
If BDS has no capacity to exert governmental pressure, then why are Israeli officials—those who are invested in protecting the status quo—so afraid that they had to outlaw BDS in Israel last summer? One Israeli diplomat termed BDS “a practical warhead on the tip of an ideological rocket.”
Over the last week, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, City Council speaker (and 2013 mayoral hopeful) Christine Quinn, public advocate Bill de Blasio, Senator Charles Schumer, and a long list of other non-Coop members clamored to pass New York’s Israel loyalty test by denouncing the Coop boycott campaign. If the Coop boycott is now at the top of the test, then BDS has really gone mainstream. It didn’t matter which way the vote went Tuesday night, because, as soon as this debate erupted in Park Slope, the boycotters had already won.