As community members and peace activists, we are proud that the Olympia Food Co-op has joined a rapidly growing global movement for social justice in a conflict for which we are all complicit. It is an honor to stand with Desmond Tutu and with prominent Palestinian and Israeli activists who are risking their lives to create a just peace.
As the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz noted recently about the Co-op and the boycott movement, “The sums involved are not large, but their international significance is huge.”
Our commitment to working for peace in Israel and Palestine is intertwined with our commitment to the Olympia community. We have sought to educate the public through events with notable speakers such as Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb and Ali Abunimah.
Our next steps include hosting a visit by esteemed Jewish liberation theologian Marc Ellis and sponsoring a panel discussion on anti-Semitism, anti-Arab racism, and Islamophobia. We are dedicated to informing the local community to not only talk about peace and justice, but to make it a reality.
We also stand committed to fighting all forms of oppression.
The swastikas that appeared at a Jewish high school on Mercer Island last month affect us personally, for we boycott supporters are also Jews, Muslims, people of color, immigrants, and queers—everything that the swastika is summoned to oppose.
That is why we are alarmed by recent actions of boycott opponents in Olympia. At the last two Co-op board meetings, local boycott opponents were accompanied by questionable allies. This included the Northwest co-chair of StandWithUs, an organization that cynically exploits the oppression of queers in the Middle East despite their explicit protestations, and a person affiliated with the xenophobic anti-immigrant group the Minutemen.
Boycott opponents had the opportunity to speak and be heard by board members. Yet when it came time for board members to discuss many other important issues, boycott opponents insisted on disrupting the meeting, making it difficult for the board to do its job in serving the Co-op.
Additionally, at the Sept. 16 board meeting, boycott opponents repeatedly made Islamophobic references to BDS being the work of “jihadists” and warned the board that “your life is in danger with these people.” To us, this mirrors the disturbing mood within the United States, where rampant Islamophobia is the norm.
Port Townsend—a model?
Opponents to the boycott are now citing the recent rejection of a boycott proposal in Port Townsend as a precedent for Olympia to follow. Not only is it strange to expect the Olympia Food Co-op to follow the dictates of a board from Port Townsend, but this account omits many details:
- The Port Townsend Co-op board president attempted to circumvent bylaws by organizing a closed-door meeting between the Co-op board and the Israeli Deputy Consul General, who had been dispatched to Port Townsend to thwart the boycott proposal in coordination with the Seattle chapter of StandWithUs.
- A racist anti-boycott cartoon appeared in the Aug. 18 Port Townsend Leader.
- Port Townsend Co-op workers were harassed by angry boycott opponents. Slurs such as “self-hating Jew” were directed against two of the Port Townsend boycott organizers who were former Israelis.
- A non-Native man stood outside the Port Townsend Co-op wearing a mock Native headdress and face paint, accosting Co-op shoppers and distributing racist literature against the boycott.
Meanwhile, the most vocal spokesperson for “It’s Our Co-op” (the Olympia anti-boycott group) traveled to Port Townsend and joined the Port Townsend Co-op hours before its member forum in order to speak against the boycott as a “member.” He then returned to Olympia and praised the Port Townsend forum as a beacon of democracy. At the same time, he wrote comments on the website of the Port Townsend Leader boasting that he had disrupted the Olympia Food Co-op’s own community forum (where he stood up and screamed expletives) on August 12 and also defaming one of us by name in the same comments.
It has been suggested that had the outcome been different—had the Olympia Co-op board rejected the boycott proposal—we boycott supporters would be acting the same way that boycott opponents are acting right now. That is absolutely untrue.
If the board had rejected the boycott, we would not have protested outside the Co-op. We would not have accosted staff or led a campaign of angry messages against the Co-op. We would not have attempted to smear the Co-op, interrupt board meetings, resort to pressure and intimidation to get our way, or threaten a loss in Co-op sales.
We would have been upset that the Co-op was not following its principles, but we value the Co-op too much to want to hurt it. Instead, we would have continued to follow process. We would have introduced a member-initiated ballot.
Therefore we are perplexed that boycott opponents reject this option and refuse to follow process. Instead, they have resorted to bullying, intimidation, disruption, fear-mongering, misinformation, racist/Islamophobic insults, and ultimatums to have their way. Is this the kind of “process” they want the Co-op to follow?
Not all opponents of the boycott have acted inappropriately. We do not blame all boycott opponents for the actions of isolated individuals. However, many of these reprehensible actions have been committed or endorsed by leaders of the boycott opposition. In fact, one of the most aggressive people—someone who has disrupted board meetings, screamed into the Co-op, yelled expletives at the Aug. 12 community forum, made Islamophobic comments to the board, and who has told passersby that one of our colleagues is “the most evil man in Olympia”—is currently being hailed as the hero of the boycott opposition.
Our Requests to Boycott Opponents
With this in mind, we as fellow community members issue the following requests to those working against the boycott:
- Be civil to Co-op staff and volunteers. Even if you oppose the boycott, there is no reason to take it out on them. Respect the work they do that keeps everyday operation of the Co-op running smoothly and enables the Co-op to serve our community.
- Be civil at Co-op board meetings. It is unreasonable to accuse the board of not doing its job and simultaneously prevent the board from doing its job by interrupting board proceedings. The board has gone out of its way to accommodate boycott opponents at these meetings and elsewhere. Please give them the opportunity to work on all other important Co-op matters.
- Fight anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia in your ranks. Reject racists such as the Minutemen or organizations such as StandWithUs that promote Islamophobia and exploit queers. Do not resort to claims about “jihadists” threatening the lives of board members, and do not dismiss or condescend to Muslims in the community.
- Acknowledge that pro-boycott Jews are just as Jewish. Do not deny them their identities. If you want to be an ally to Jews, then recognize that there is no single “legitimate” Jewish voice. Loyalty to Israel is not a litmus test for Jewish identity. One can be a proud Jew and proudly support the boycott.
- Reject intimidation and bullying to get your way. If you are concerned about process, if you are concerned about democracy, then use the democratic process that is readily available. The member-initiated ballot was designed as a tool for redress. It is counterproductive to make demands while rejecting the avenues to achieve those demands.
- Avoid apocalyptic narratives. The community is not torn to shreds. The Co-op is not on the verge of collapse. Olympia is not a “war zone.” Do not resort to fear-mongering and scare tactics to get your way. And please, don’t tell the board that their “lives are in danger.”
- Stop spreading misinformation. The boycott is not designed to “disband” Israel, we are not “paid outside agitators” set on destroying Olympia, sales are not down at the Co-op,* and there was no “stolen vote.”
- If you have questions about the boycott movement, then ask us! Attend our informational events and read our literature. Don’t believe everything you read on the internet. We have spent an inordinate amount of time dispelling malicious rumors directed against us and against the process that we carefully followed.
- Be honest about your concerns. Dialogue cannot happen when one party is not forthcoming. Is it about the “process” or is it about Israel? Would you be protesting if the Co-op had boycotted Djibouti instead? Would you have complained if the Co-op had followed the same process but rejected the boycott? If not, then be honest and say that your ultimate concern is about defending Israel. Only then can true dialogue begin.
- Take responsibility for your actions. It is bizarre to create discord and disruption, to protest, to level accusations and spread misinformation, and to file grievances over the boycott—and then claim that the boycott must be rescinded because it is causing discord. The boycott doesn’t make you do it. You choose to do it.
Boycott opponents repeatedly exploit the idea that the community is being “torn apart.” This is true only to the extent that boycott opponents are willing to resort to misinformation, disruption, and bullying to have their way, rather than pursue the democratic process offered to them, which they disdainfully reject.
Time for a debate?
At this point, we feel it would be an educational opportunity to counter misinformation by participating in a civil and public debate about the boycott. We feel that a debate would allow interested parties to explain their positions and to dispel much of the misinformation that has been widely circulated.
We invite boycott opponents to work with us to establish this debate in order to increase understanding of the issues at hand. Let us involve the community in this discussion.
To participate, please contact us through our website, www.olympiabds.org.
* A letter printed in the Olympian falsely claimed that “[s]ales are down” at the Co-op due to the boycott. In fact, Co-op records show a significant increase in sales following the boycott.