Monday, May 11, 2015

For the Media

May 11, 2015 - This morning I woke up to find an editorial in the New York Daily News about  the  latest BDS effort at the Park Slope Food Coop.  The editorial is based on a report appearing at the The Indypendent written by a Food Coop member who attended the April General Meeting.  The editorial contains no original first hand reporting.

I love reporters.  I envy your writing abilities.  I had a great time talking to reporters three years ago. But I also have a day job.  This time please send your questions to my email stopbdsparkslope at  We will try to send you answers within 24 hours.  I think this will work better for everyone.

The Food Coop is an extremely successful experiment.  Starting with a few people 40 years ago who decided to collectively buy wholesale, it has grown into a $50 million/year business, employing some 50 people, and providing them with very competitive salaries and attractive benefits.  In addition, members save thousands of dollars a year on their food bill and we support local agriculture.

The Coop's Mission Statement includes:
We are committed to diversity and equality. We oppose discrimination in any form. We strive to make the Coop welcoming and accessible to all and to respect the opinions, needs and concerns of every member. We seek to maximize participation at every level, from policy making to running the store.

We welcome all who respect these values.
Yet, from time to time, for better or worse, because of the nature of Food Coop governance relies on the cooperative spirit and good will of its members, food coops - like colleges - are left vulnerable to exploitation by groups seeking to promote their political causes.  As the the blog Divest This! writes:

One answer has to do with our old friend ruthlessness.  For in a society, such as a college community, that values discourse and assumes people will resolve problems reasonably and amicably, how do you deal with an organization ready to trash the entire enterprise in order to torture and smear their political enemies?
 Please check back here for relevant articles as I post responses to the latest BDS effort.

How To Get Our House in Order
From the Perspective of an Israeli Coop Member

How To Get Our House in Order

The following was submitted by a Coop member who attended the April General Meeting at the Park Slope Food Coop.  She offers some insights into how and why the meeting got out of control, and suggestions for how we can do better:

Fully appreciating that the committees referenced below made good faith efforts to exercise their complex responsibilities, it was nonetheless not surprising that the April GM at one point devolved into a chaotic shouting match. The many reasons follow, with constructive suggestions for assuring order in the future.

THE AGENDA COMMITTEE (AC) made an error of judgment by scheduling a discussion about boycotting SodaStream in the "Occupied Palestinian Territories" (aka "disputed territories"). It was well-known by all relevant parties that the factory in question was closing one week from the meeting, information relayed in writing by SodaStream upon request from Coop management and forwarded to the AC. Therefore the discussion clearly revolved around a moot point and offered little but a third opportunity (2011 discussion, 2012 boycott referendum proposal, soundly defeated) to make the familiar, highly controversial claims repeatedly published (and refuted) for six years in the Gazette.
SUGGESTION: In future the AC might consider the appropriateness and value of a discussion/proposal based on an obsoleted premise, in this instance that there would be a factory to boycott.

THE CHAIR COMMITTEE (CC), with the unenviable task of making split-second parliamentary decisions, unfortunately lost control of some of the proceedings, not their fault alone given that all factions contributed to the ensuing chaos.

During the Open Forum an attempt to query the AC about the legitimacy of the discussion was ruled out of order despite meeting the relevant guideline providing "the opportunity for members to briefly submit general and specific questions regarding the operation of the Coop"1 (which naturally includes the AC). SUGGESTION: Future meetings would benefit from a reading of the brief guideline by the Chair prior to the Open Forum.

A later parliamentary attempt was made to question the validity of the discussion (Objection to Consideration of a Question), similarly rejected by the Chair.
SUGGESTION: In future the Chair might inform members about how to exercise their parliamentary rights2, (among other ways, by making a motion) detailed on easily overlooked handouts, which to facilitate order might be projected above the stage2.

Although the discussion was submitted by only two individuals, the Chair allowed six presenters, providing them a disproportionate time-advantage in the discussion. Irrelevant and out-of-context images of Israeli military were displayed, suggesting, without unambiguously depicting, Israeli abuses. This predictably provoked – unfortunately but understandably – a call to remove the images. To his credit the Chair repeatedly but futilely directed the projectionist to desist, but finally gave up when she refused, resulting in a lengthy shouting match.
SUGGESTION: In future the Chair should suspend the discussion until compliance with an order is achieved or remind members of their right to make a motion and vote on removing the images. (Objections were also made, but ignored, about a presenter provocatively imaging audience reactions from the podium).

Following management's reading of the letter about the imminent closing of the relevant SodaStream factory, some in the audience continued to disrupt, with unfortunately no effective restraint by the Chair. SUGGESTIONS: The Chair should offer disrupters a choice to desist or leave, and, if necessary, either escort them out or, again, suspend the proceedings until compliance is secured. In future, discussions about this incendiary, divisive topic (best avoided altogether), might benefit (sadly) from security presence as at the 2012 meeting.

Following the six-person presentation, the Chair directed alternating one minute pro and con responses, thus providing no reasonable opportunity for serious debate of the highly contentious material presented. SUGGESTION: For debates on such complex and controversial topics, a more equitable alternate format should be developed, allowing an equivalent counter-presentation by informed opposition representatives prior to the alternating, inadequate one-minute, pro and con responses.

Unfortunately, it can be claimed that the proceedings exemplified the very tactics encouraged and used globally by BDS advocates, who routinely disrupt Israeli events and speakers (this naturally doesn't excuse comparable -- understandable but unacceptable -- disruption from the opposing faction). In a sense, the presenters experienced what it feels like to be on the receiving end of their movement's own tactics. SUGGESTION: But now, we collectively – members, management, committees, and the Board of Directors – all need to reconsider allowing enduring divisiveness so far outside the boundaries of inclusiveness, courtesy, sensitivity and respect for the dignitary rights of all groups within our community, assuring harmony and cohesion above disruptive partisan politics only tangentially relevant to the Coop.

From the Perspective of an Israeli Coop Member

The following was written by Coop Member Yoav Gal following the April General Meeting of the Park Slope Food Coop.

I would like to apologize for the rowdy behavior exhibited during last week’s General Meeting. My expectation at the GM was to hear updates about the Coop and discuss on-going issues, not to be subjected to a political propaganda pageant. I ask the members to understand the reaction in this context. There may have been better ways to object to the BDS presentation, but there is just no possibility of just staying quietly in my seat in the face of baseless and pointless demonization of my people.

Hate speech cannot be allowed. We will not accept presentations alleging the evil or inferiority of Muslims, women, blacks, gays, Mexicans, or any other group of people, even though plenty of ‘evidence’ and audio-visual material can always be found to ‘support’ any kind of such ‘claims’. Similarly, I cannot accept the demeaning caricature of my people - the vibrant and pluralistic liberal democracy of Israel - as a “colonial, apartheid power oppressing the indigenous people.”

How can we tell that the BDS presentation was an Israel-hate rally? Let’s examine:

Can the proposed boycott of Sodastream help anyone? No. The ‘success’ of this campaign will cause 500 Palestinian workers to lose well-paid jobs with benefits and promotion opportunities.

Do the Palestinians support this effort? No. The workers of Sodastream expressed themselves against this campaign and even Mahmud Abbas, the Palestinian president, is against BDS.

Did the presenting group make and effort to present a thoughtful and balanced approach to their issue? No. They recited ready-made propaganda material, cherry-picked information, out context facts and outright lies.

Does the boycotting Israeli products in general has any other merit in the cause of justice? No.

Israel isn’t a colonial power, it does not practice apartheid, nor does it oppress any indigenous people. Zionism is a national liberation movement, whose greatest ‘fault’ is in creating a vibrant democracy in the Middle East.

Still, can we help the Palestinians? Of course, we can and should, though positive actions such as the proposed purchasing of Palestinian olive oil, among other initiatives.

Lastly, we need to be clear about the harm done by BDS. Demonizing lectures about my people makes the coop a non-welcoming place to me as an Israeli Jew. I will not continue my membership in an organization, which is unjustly antagonistic towards my fellow Israelis. A bigger problem still, is the potential of demonization to lead to violence. The threat of terrorism against Jews and Israelis in particular is real. Armed guards are already the norm in synagogues, schools and camps. In Europe, where the lines between political opposition and Anti-Semitism have been largely erased, the situation is such that Jews are simply packing up and leaving. We do not wish to see a similar situation in Brooklyn.

I ask that the coop leadership find the organizational means to put a stop to the continued community-divisive tactics of BDS at the coop.