Activism

Censorship in Brooklyn: Food Coop bars ‘any events related to BDS or Israel’ from meeting room

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This is disturbing. The Park Slope Food Coop staff is trying to shut down discussion of the Israel/Palestine issue with a strict censorship policy of discussions in its members’ meeting room on the subjects of Israel or BDS, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.

It’s bad enough that the Brooklyn institution’s board is opposing boycott; though it is reflecting the will of members on that point, circa 2012 anyway. But the board of the coop is so afraid that the issue is gathering steam among progressives that it has shut down another vote on boycotting SodaStream for a year now; and two days ago officials at the coop issued this crazy new fiat against members using the meeting room to even talk about Israel and Palestine.

Subject: Regarding events in the meeting room

Tuesday, April 26

Dear Naomi,

Because of recent disputes about the content and purpose of events in the meeting room, the General Coordinators, in our capacity of chief administrators of the Coop, have decided to stop scheduling any events related to SodaStream, BDS, Israel or boycotts related to these subjects in the meeting room. The event scheduled for Sunday, May 1, will be the final event regarding these subjects.

Please share this information with any members who need to know.

Ann Herpel on behalf of the General Coordinators

The person who shared this with me, Sarah Wellington, says the move is a highhanded effort by the Coop coordinators, who are supposed to represent the will of a community of 16,000 members, to impose views on the membership. “In order to impose something like banning a subject matter, the plan would have to be presented to the membership at a general meeting, which occurs monthly, and this was not done, the general coordinators made this decision themselves,” Wellington explained. That makes it an abuse of power.

And meantime, members will be able to have meetings at the Coop on any other $%*& subject they please, from the politics of sushi fishing to how to have a flat tummy to movie night (including films about the European Jewish experience) to the modern funeral to the secrets of a good posture.

Just no talkin about Palestine!

We have tracked events regarding Israel/Palestine at the Park Slope Food Coop because it’s a leading progressive institution in a heavily-Jewish neighborhood. In 2012, a monthly general meeting voted by a sizeable margin not to turn the issue of the boycott of Israeli goods over to a membership-wide referendum, but the issue has not gone away and a year ago the pro-boycott forces put on the agenda a proposal to boycott SodaStream products because they were made in the occupied West Bank. Well, that agenda item has languished for a year now without any action by the board to hold a vote, citing one excuse or another; and meantime three months back pro-Israel forces got through a measure requiring a supermajority of 75 percent to pass a boycott. The Coop board is not just afraid of the divisiveness of the Palestine issue (bring it on, says any activist worth their seasalt) but of abandoning the Israeli government. Weird.

Wellington says that SodaStream proposal was so upsetting to the Coop last April that some members stormed the stage at the general meeting to protest it; and tried to shout down the proposers. And since then the “general coordinators,” of whom Herpel is one, have delayed any action.

“This is NOT what democracy looks like,” Wellington says of the new rule. If you look up the meeting workshops rules, within certain very reasonable provisions, anyone can have a meeting.

As for that last meeting at the Coop on Sunday: it’s entitled, “Displacement of Bedouin Palestinians in Israel: What is Sodastream’s role?” May 1st, international labor day, at noon at the Park Slope Food Coop.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement has forced SodaStream to move their production facilities from the Occupied West Bank to the Northern Naqab (Negev) region. SodaStream says it’s an improvement to move its facilities from occupied territory to Israel-proper. But how much of a difference does it make? Coop members Naomi Brussel and Rebecca Manski will discuss the issues related to the international boycott of SodaStream’s water carbonation products.

Wellington says the new rule is not going to thwart organizers who demand that the Coop take a stand, true to the Coop’s mission statement, “…to avoid products that depend on the exploitation of others.” She adds, “Free speech, the democratic process and cooperative behavior are at grave risk at the Park Slope Food Coop.”

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wow, just wow.

What about holding a meeting on establishing a new co-op? That wouldn’t be forbidden under this rule. And it might make the management think again.

Go ahead, offer every reason but the real one – people are tired of BDS activists selfishly sowing division in their institutions. They’re tired of the in-your-face activism, they’re tired of the nastiness, and they’re tired of the anti-Semitism inherent in the movement. They’re just not that into you.

Philip,

The only thing factual in your article is the letter. Your use of terminology alone makes you stand out as singularly unaware of how things actually work there.

Sorry, but that’s the truth.

Starting a new co-op sounds like a good idea. I’m sure there’s some other place that could be used to hold a meeting if needed. If folks don’t feel good about being part of a group like this, they could leave. Or “boycott” it…