Members of a Brooklyn food co-op voted down a controversial motion Tuesday night that would have paved the way for a referendum on the boycott of Israeli-made goods, effectively ending three years of heated internal debate at a community institution usually more concerned with sharing organic recipes than divisive geopolitical issues.
The vote at the 16,000-plus member-owned Park Slope Food Co-Op would have brought the co-op one step closer to participating in the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, or BDS.
BDS supporters aim to help Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank by boycotting Israeli products and companies that do business with Israel. Those opposing the boycott defeated its supporters in a 1,005 to 653 vote.
According to Joe Holtz, one of the organization’s founders, only a few Israeli products are sold at the co-op, including vegan marshmallows, pesto tapenade and Israeli couscous. Yet, the mere possibility of a boycott sparked extensive local media coverage and stoked tension amongst co-op members and New Yorkers on both sides of the issue.
Peter Raskin, a retired teacher and member of the co-op for 35 years, described a sense of unease that pervaded the co-op in the lead-up to the vote due to the presence of BDS supporters demonstrating outside.
He said that while the co-op has long been a place of camaraderie to work and talk food, “this has touched on people’s nerves. I was feeling afraid to tell people I was a co-op member."
Founded in 1973 by a small group of neighborhood residents, the co-op’s rules stipulate that members must work 2 hours and 45 minutes once every four weeks.
But Raskin believes the forces behind the BDS movement at the co-op were largely external and, according to him, anti-Semitic. He said that when his wife went shopping recently someone came in from outside the co-op and put a sign over the matzo indicating that it was made in Israel. “It’s Passover season,” Raskin said. “Anyone buying matzo is Jewish, they know it’s made in Israel,” he said.
Still, some at the co-op simply wanted to keep food and politics separate.
“I think we should just not have an opinion, it’s just too contentious an issue for most people,” Dakkan Abby, a co-op member told CNN affiliate WABC. “It’s too emotional and divides what’s otherwise a pretty united community,” he said.
The co-op’s vote even got some attention from Jon Stewart’s "The Daily Show" Tuesday night, with correspondent Samantha Bee quipping that in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Park Slope Food Co-Op is perhaps the “one victim of this war that may be the most tragic of all.”
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