Thursday, July 28, 2011

Report from the "Discussion" at the General Meeting

For this to make any sense at all, I first have to describe how the Park Slope Food Coop is governed.  The Coop's monthly General Meeting (GM) has been the decision-making body of the Coop since the Coop began in 1973.  When the Coop was incorporated in 1977, it became legally required to have a Board of Directors. However, the Board's role doesn't overshadow or replace the member initiative, discussion and decision-making that is the purpose of the GM.

Decisions are made at the monthly GM.  All members may attend and vote.  Any member can submit an item to the Agenda Committee and it will eventually get calendared for the GM.  And so it proceeded for the group of members who requested a "Discussion about Conducting a Membership-wide referendum on the participation of the PSFC in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israeli apartheid policies."

A Park Slope Food Coop GM "discussion" consists of 3 parts.  First, the submitting party presents the agenda item.  Second, members may ask clarifying questions to the submitting party about the item.  Finally, there is a period for comment, where members are called up one at a time for 2-3 minutes to state their opinions on the measure at hand.  No vote is taken.

If you were hoping for logical presentations of well reasoned arguments and proofs by opposing sides,  you would be disappointed. 

The "discussion" was conducted as described above, with one exception. A statement by Rabbi Bachman opposing the boycott was read prior to opening the floor to comments.  Rabbi Bachman is the senior rabbi at the nearby synagogue where the Coop holds the GM.    In all, 25 members treated us to their sound bites.  14 spoke out in opposition to BDS, 9 were in favor, and 2 made neutral comments.  Time ran out, and we voted to adjourn.

I was surprised by the lack of substance in the BDS presentation.  They spent most of their time talking about how a referendum was more democratic than a General Meeting.  They did not identify the goals of the BDS movement.  They did not provide a single specific example of Israel's horrible behaviors, other than the vague terms "violations of human rights and international law" and "apartheid."  Could it be that they can't substantiate these claims? And why hide the nature of BDS?

Maybe you can find an answer in the video at the top left.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

How BDS Hurts Food Coops - Pt. 1

This video has interviews with members of the Port Townsend Food Co-op and the Olympia Food Co-op.  In Port Townsend, the BDS attempt failed.  In Olympia, it succeeded by subverting the democratic process.  I will write more about Olympia soon, or you can read all the posts at Divest This!

In the meantime, you can listen to these long time co-op members and board member tell the story of how BDS tore their community apart.

Neutral Spaces

Our Coop is a food store. Our work requirement is the key element that allows the coop to provides our low prices.   There is a bonus; we get to work and interact, even form friendships, with diverse  groups of people, many of whom we would never meet otherwise.

Life provides many opportunities for interaction within our own particular communities, be they political, religious, ethnic, national, regional, etc. To build broader communities, we require neutral spaces where people with different politics, religion, sexual orientation, etc. can meet and interact with each other as people, without regard to the barriers that separate us in other settings. The coop is one of these neutral spaces.

When we interact in these neutral environments, we learn to recognize our common humanity, to dispel stereotypes about each other and to begin to respect those with whom we disagree or who are different from us.

Politicizing neutral institutions destroys this source of community and opportunity for interaction. If an organization like the Park Slope Food Coop were to adopt positions on divisive political issues, then it really would no longer be open to everyone. No one joins or continues to support an organization espousing political positions he or she abhors.

If the Coop considers adopting divisive political positions, its membership will fragment. This is what happens when previously open communal organizations take sides on political controversies on which their members strongly disagree.

Our Coop is worth protecting and preserving. Our members must resist attempts to use our Coop as a political weapon to be fought over and captured.

The above was adopted from a March 2010 essay by Alan Brownstein, professor of constitutional law at the UC Davis School of Law. The essay was written in response to the BDS effort at the Davis Food Cooperative. It was originally published in the Davis Enterprise, and re-posted on the Davis Interfaith Coalition for Peace and Justice in the Middle East web site. You can read the original here.

The Board of Directors of the Davis Food Cooperative ultimately rejected a member initiative to vote on joining BDS. It was determined the initiative did not have a "lawful and proper purpose" according to their by-laws.

Friday, July 15, 2011

About the UN

One of the BDS claims is "abundant condemnation of Israeli policies by the UN."

The UN has performed outstanding work in the areas of health, hunger and agriculture development.

It also has ignored conflicts, human rights abuses and humanitarian crises in places like China, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Congo, and Algeria, to name a few.

Jerusalem Institute for Justice put together this video explaining the politics of how this came to be that so much attention is place on Israel, and the unfree states of the world are ignored.