Next time someone talks up the American tradition of free speech compared to other societies (including me!), remind them of this.
Park Slope, Brooklyn, is one of the most liberal and highly-educated communities in the western hemisphere, indeed any hemisphere. Every other week, the Park Slope Food Coop publishes a newsletter called the Linewaiters’ Gazette. In August the publication said that the issue of possibly boycotting Israeli goods– chiefly the seltzer-maker SodaStream– was so divisive that it was not publishing letters on the subject of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS):
On behalf of the Linewaiters’ Gazette, Co-Coordinating Gazette Editor Joan Minieri told the meeting the paper will temporarily suspend publication of all BDS and anti-BDS letters and articles until the editors can devise a sustainable policy for the letters, one that would allow civil discourse within word limits. The handling of the large volume of strident BDS and anti-BDS letters has occupied increasing amounts of editors’ time.
Minieri reported that over a 12-month period, 74 percent of the letters submitted were written by the same 10 people. It’s not unusual, she said, for an editor to spend 15 to 20 hours just on BDS-related letters for a given issue of the paper, trying to avoid publication of slanderous or libelous statements and hate speech—a situation, she pointed out, that is not consistent with the Coop’s policy of equity in member labor. On top of the added workload, she said, is the stress of navigating the highly charged and politicized atmosphere around this issue, with members regularly questioning the integrity and judgment of the newspaper’s staff.
She told the meeting the suspension was temporary, and would last a maximum of several months, and was not intended to censor speech, but to give the paper some breathing space to think about how to handle the issue fairly and accountably. Preceding her announcement, in the open forum, a number of members, including David Barouh and Mitchel Cohen, complained of censorship and suppression by the Gazette of their letters.
I wonder what she means by hate speech. Does that including speech that trashes Israel? Park Slope Food Coop Members for Boycott Divestment and Sanctions are appalled by the policy:
“The Linewaiters’ Gazette continues to suspend any and all letters and articles about BDS, Israel or Palestine even as it relates to food that we stock on our shelves. The Gazette staff claim they need time to devise and propose a fair and comprehensive editorial policy regarding the management of controversial issues including BDS. We find it highly problematic that while a vote to boycott SodaStream is pending, the Gazette has ‘temporarily’ disallowed a pro and con discussion of this controversial product. Please consider speaking up about this censorship which is impeding our ability to discuss Sodastream’s many food injustices as a product that is complicit with Israel’s human rights abuses. The November 24th GM will probably focus on the Gazette’s censorship. Please attend that very important GM.”
It sure looks like a selective policy. This recent issue mentions would-be boycotters of Israeli products in a negative manner, as disruptive; and recent issues have published this anti-BDS event promotion for November 8:
How many narratives are there in the Israel-Palestine conflict? One above all? Two competing ones? How about five narratives? How about one hundred? If you’ve always felt that “pro” or “anti” positions only put us at odds, and that angry resolutions help no one, you should come and bring your alternative solutions for peace in the Middle East and for our beautiful Coop. This will NOT be a debate on the pros and cons of boycotting. For this meeting please bring your own (hopefully vegan) dish to share with all present.
Jesse Rosenfeld is a Coop member since 2004, secretary for the General Meeting, and has brought a new brand of Palestinian olive oil to our shelves. He believes in empowerment, not boycotts.
Thanks to the good folks at We Will Not Be Silent.