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New York State Law prohibits companies from participating
in boycotts based on national origin
Recently the Greenstar Natural Foods Market in Ithaca, NY, based on legal advice, rejected a member initiated petition to hold a referendum on “boycotting goods from Israel.” According to Greenstar “When questions about the legality of the proposed referendum were raised, Council decided to seek opinions from two separate attorneys, neither of whom has any connections to the groups or issues involved. Both attorneys independently arrived at the same conclusion – that any of the proposed boycotts, if approved, could lead to lengthy and expensive litigation and would likely be found to be in violation of a provision in New York State's Human Rights Law which prohibits companies from participating in boycotts based on national origin, and that it would therefore be legally irresponsible for Council to allow the requested referendum to occur. Disregarding such clear, professional advice could put Council and the Co-op in a legally untenable position, and jeopardize our insurance coverage in the event of a lawsuit.” Based on this advice, the Greenstar Council rejected the petition.
Our own Board of Directors "are legally bound to use their business judgment and act in the best interests of the corporation" (according to the Membership Manual) and, similarly, would have to reject any pro-BDS resolution.
Moreover, on June 18, 2015, the New York State Assembly passed a resolution rejecting the BDS movement, saying the "movement and its agenda are damaging to the causes of peace, justice, equality, democracy, and human rights for all peoples in the Middle East"
Being associated with the BDS movement can have negative effects on the Coop's reputation, possibly undermining our relationships with suppliers. Coop endorsement of BDS wpuld violate our commitment to the Mission Statement: "We strive to make the coop welcoming and accessible to all, and to respect the opinions, needs and concerns of every member."
The divisive nature of BDS causes hardship for the Coop
Three years ago, at the largest General Meeting in Coop history, a group calling itself Park Slope Food Coop members for BDS (PSFC-BDS) presented a proposal to hold a referendum on a store wide boycott of Israel. The proposal was handily defeated by a 60-40 majority.
The meeting cost the Coop:
Brooklyn Technical High School will not rent us space to hold a meeting on BDS. Another meeting is anticipated to cost much more. This is detailed in the Coordinator's report and in Joe Holtz Gazette Submission
- over $5,000 for room rental fees
- over $7,000 for staff over-time pay
- over 1,000 member work slots
- countless hours a staff being distracted from their jobs of running the Coop
- immeasurable stress on the professional staff
- extreme divisiveness and undermining of the Coop's cooperative spirit
- excessive negative publicity, potentially undermining relationships with our suppliers
PSFC-BDS has repeatedly said they do not care how divisive this issue is. They have accused the Coordinators of trying to suppress speech, insinuating the Coordinators are not acting in the interest of the Coop.
Why is this more divisive than meat, beer or plastic bags?
While people hold strong feelings about those other issues, their only effect is on the items carried in the Coop. The BDS proposal involves endorsement of a political program that advocates the end of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
The BDS leadership:
- Omar Barghouti: “The current phase has all the emblematic properties of what may be considered the final chapter of the Zionist project. We are witnessing the rapid demise of Zionism, and nothing can be done to save it, for Zionism is intent on killing itself. I, for one, support euthanasia.”
- As’ad Abu Khalil: “Justice and freedom for the Palestinians are incompatible with the existence of the State of Israel.”
- Ahmed Moor: “OK, fine. So BDS does mean the end of the Jewish state….I view the BDS movement as a long-term project with radically transformative potential….In other words, BDS is not another step on the way to the final showdown; BDS is The Final Showdown.”
Why are you doing a petition?
Usually decisions about the Coop are made by the members attending a General Meeting. Those decisions are then formalized by a vote of the Board of Directors.
To hold a General Meeting vote on excluding BDS activities from the Coop or any subject related to BDS, Israel, Palestinians would require the rental of large meeting space. When the Coop inquired at local venues, they were told they could not rent the space to hold a meeting on this subject.
Once we get a large number of signers on this petition are legally bound to use their business judgment and act in the best interests of the corporation. Historically, the directors’ decisions have always been based on the advice received from the members of the GM. A petition is also a way members can offer their advice to the Directors.
A petition will avoid the expense of a General Meeting, not to mention the acrimony that will be generated. PSFC-BDS has repeatedly supplied the Coop with false or misleading information of an inflammatory nature.
PSFC-BDS says you are denying their right to free speech?
Why not just hold the referendum?
In 6 years of anti-Israel letters in the Linewaiters' Gazette, PSFC-BDS has failed to generate support. Sales of SodaStream remain strong in the Coop. PSFC-BDS wants to use the Coop to publicize and legitimate their cause, which is essentially bigoted in nature. This is unacceptable.
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement runs counter to the Rochdale Principles, upon which the cooperative movement was founded. Specifically, the BDS initiative violates the basic principle of political and religious neutrality and the idea that cooperatives should avoid the dangers of meddling in political and religious affairs.
Free speech guarantees your right to say what you want on your dime. It does not obligate anyone to host you. The purpose of the GM is the running of a business. The nature of the proposal is potentially harmful to the Coop. The GM is under no obligation to entertain it again.
PSFC-BDS is free to create their own petition and gather support.
Sign the Petition
Who Is BDS and What Is its Goal? Part I
Who Is BDS and What Is its Goal? Part II