Almost 1,700 members of the Park Slope Food Co-Op voted last night on the issue of boycotting the sale of Israeli products at the famously fussy cooperative grocery. So many people turned out that the meeting had to be delayed for an hour as a massive line of members filed into Brooklyn Technical High School and through the surrounding neighborhood of Fort Greene. Check out this video of the epic line:
After nearly three hours of heated debate, the members in attendance voted overwhelmingly against holding a referendum on the matter, which would have allowed all of the co-op's 16,000 members to vote via write-in ballot. 1,005 voted against a referendum last night, with 653 voting for the referendum. In a statement, the group pushing for the referendum said, "Although we finished with a very significant level of support, almost 40%, the results of the vote show that there remains much work to do in our efforts to educate co-op members on the importance of BDS."
"What is BDS?" asked one member, quoting Norman Finkelstein, last night. "I'm not going to be in a cult again." (BDS stands for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions, an international movement against Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands.) Finklestein and others would learn a lot about BDS during the three hour meeting, during which dozens of members were selected at random to take the mic and speak their piece. Here are some of the most interesting statements, according to co-op squad leader who tells us he's "tired of political strife." These are his observations, in his words:
- Meeting chair Carl Arnold: "We would appreciate that no photos, tweets, or audiovideo recordings be made by the members attending tonight's meeting."
- The BDS proponents have 8 minutes to present their crazy anti-coop bullshit. There are six women and one man, and they're having AV difficulties. They're showing a YouTube with a dude with a weird English accent saying "You know plastic is bad for the planet" but would you buy "Citrus harvested steps away from those arrested without charge"?
- BDS proponent with mohawk: "Carrying Israeli goods… is an act of crossing an international boycott picket line."
- The first lady gets up, starts saying "We represent a very unique experiment" but there's totally crazy feedback every time she talks. People are shouting at her to go up on the stage to use the microphone that actually works.
- The first lady (who had the feedback) says, "We represent a somewhat unique exercise in cooperative living... Let's not try to solve the whole world. Let's be a model of something that works around something that people love to do together: eat, talk about food."
Awesome hippie hassid guy speaks. "I've had some of the best fights of my life walking people home from the coop." #foodcoop
— Allison(@brooklynbreeder) March 28, 2012
- Unidentified female: "I won't tell you my politics on Israel and Palestine because I don't think it matters. We really need to think as a co-op about what it is we support and what it is we don't support. I'm with you on human rights violations—it was my major in graduate school."
- Marita Downs: "We are a living example of how to shop for food in peace. We leave our outside identities at the door. Why would we want to destroy that?... One side will win and one side will lose. The losers are going to feel bad and the winners are going to feel righteous. We will have brought the outside world into the co-op."
- Sally Menker: "I would like to thank the BDS people for introducing me to some of the wonderful I products that we sell at the co-op. Because of this fracas, i have recently bought the yehuda matzos and olive tapenade, which is wonderful. Thanks BDS for encouraging me to buy more Israeli products than I normally would. I will continue to do that. I am sick and tired of the nasty negativity that this divisive issue has brought to my grocery store."
- Himam Bebe: "Three years ago I suggested that we boycott Israel after watching 23 days of people in Gaza being massacred by the Israeli forces" She gets booed and the chair tells people to shut up. "At the end of those 23 days, 1400 Palestinians were dead." Heckler: "How about the Jews?" Chair reminds people not to heckle.
Never thought of the Park Slope part of my upbringing as more embarrassing than theStaten Island part, but #foodcoop may change things.
— Bill Loehfelm (@BillLoehfelm) March 28, 2012
- A woman named Shira: "No one has yet talked about the cost of a referendum, the cost of mailing out letters and then mailing them back, and the labor to facilitate that would be, I dunno, maybe a dollar a member? That's $16,000."
- Albert Solomon, old man in crazy ponytail and Hawaiian shirt (this guy runs for every co-op office ever and always loses): "I have an amendment. One. The co-op will not join the BDS movement. We will simply stop selling products made in Israel. Two. Instead of deciding the question at the meeting and by referendum, we will do both. If it passes at this meeting, stop selling Israeli products immediately. If referendum fails, resume selling. "Do I have a second?" Silence.
- Chair: "Albert, it is the job of the chair to ask if there's a second." A couple people shout out second. Chair says amendment is against spirit of original proposal, and "in the co-op, that's not something that we do There are a lot of other people to speak…this is out of order and would you please let the next speaker come to the microphone"
- Solomon doesn't move. They turn off the mic. He stands there shaking his head for a minute.
- Chair: "It's the next person's turn, Albert. Would you please let the next person speak and stop disrupting the meeting? Albert, it's time to let the next person speak." The crowd shouts "Sit down." Solomon finally complies.
— Dani Klein ✈ ✈ ✈ (@YeahThatsKosher) March 28, 2012
- Woman: "You've got to fight for your right to party. Partying makes us happy, and I can see that if we vote yes, which is icky, it would make the man who started the co-op very sad. I like to be happy. Things that make me happy are organic kale and organic vegetables. I like the fruit too. And the dried fruit."
- Woman: "The idea that we would enter the coop and our politics would fall away at the door… as a black lesbian I think that is impossible."
- Man: "This doesn't feel good right now, but neither does an enema. We need to clean house. Whole foods is a store. Trader Joe's is a store. The co-op is a community."
- "Awesome hipster hasid," Matthue Roth: "I'm a walker. As a walker I've got in some of the best fights in my life, and it's awesome." [Editor's note: At the co-op, a walker escorts members home with their groceries and brings back the cart.] "Nobody looks like me. I'm a vegetarian. I'd love to make meat illegal... I'd love to make lima beans illegal too… If you don't like sabra hummus, then don't buy it."
Finally, at 9:30, two representatives from each side of the debate began counting the votes. During this, according to our source, a "bizarre video about the co-op being awesome narrated by someone with a very thick Japanese accent" was played. Just before 10 p.m., it was announced that the referendum failed. The vote's impact immediately had international repercussions:
RT @joshgreenman: Report: Israel emboldened by Park Slope Food Coop vote; dramatically expands settlement activity
— Heidi N. Moore (@moorehn) March 28, 2012
Outside the meeting, the debate was just as heated. The first two people on line were Susan and Peter Raskin, longtime Park Slope residents, who have both been co-op members almost 30 years. "There's no way this isn't anti-Semitic," Peter Raskin told us. "This is a group of people who have infiltrated our co-op in the most insidious way and they have an agenda to eliminate the state of Israel. You see that guy? His sign is a lie!"
Raskin was pointing at a sign that read, "The Right To Vote Your Choice." Raskin then shouted at the man holding the sign: "Your sign is a lie! Let them go after China if they want to have a boycott. This boycott won't impact finances in Israel. We carry five Israeli products out of thousands! Five!" Peter Raskin and others also pointed out that many of the BDS advocates are not co-op members. "Ask them if they're even members," Raskin implred. "What are you doing here if you're not a member? Do you see how they do this? Look what they did to the Olympia [Washington] co-op. It destroyed a community."
Rebecca Arian, a 24-year-old BDS advocate who is not a co-op member, told us, "I've been called a self-hating Jew. I don't see any conflict. Judaism is about social justice and the State of Israel has violated a number of international laws." Minutes before the doors finally open, Peter Raskin said with a sigh, "Friends and neighbors are divided on this issue. People who have been friends and memebers [of the co-op] for years! Now there is animosity between them."
Additional reporting from outside the meeting by James Thilman.