Americans are far more supportive of Israel than Europeans, and most initiatives to boycott Israeli goods or to divest funds from companies working with Israel are unsuccessful in the United States.
But such projects have recently become more widespread, especially among students – although most divestment decisions by student bodies are not implemented on the colleges’ management levels.
Last week, the board of directors of the Olympia Food Co-op in Washington state decided that no more Israeli products will be sold at its two grocery stores in the city.
“We met last Thursday for the board members meeting and a pretty large group – about 40 people – presented the boycott project and answered our questions,” Rob Richards, a board member, told Haaretz. “A couple of board members were concerned about what will be the financial effect on the organization, but it’s minimal. For me personally there is a moral imperative that goes beyond any financial concern. So we decided to adopt the boycott which went into effect the next day.”
Asked whether the boycott includes all products made in Israel, or only in settlements, Richards explained: “As far as I know – it concerns any Israeli products. We exempted “Peace Oil” – it’s a joint product produced by the Palestinian farmers. Any product that is made by the company that works to improve the conditions of the Palestinians will be exempted.”
Richards says the decision drew no protests.
“There was very little feedback from the staff that was against the boycott, but it seemed as minority opinion. We have two members on the board from the Jewish community who were supportive of the boycott – it’s pretty progressive town. I know that’s not universal at the Jewish community.”
There is a list of conditions that will lead to the end of the boycott, he says.
“I am trying to be realistic – the Olympia Food Co-Op boycott is not going to change the Israeli policy, but I believe that these small drops will eventually have an effect. I would like to see more co-ops joining the boycott and more voices involved,” he added.
It is probably no coincidence that Olympia is the hometown of the International Solidarity Movement activist Rachel Corrie who was killed seven years ago in Gaza - a Caterpillar bulldozer ran over her as she tried to prevent demolition of a Palestinian house. Last month, the student body of Evergreen State College in Olympia, where she studied, passed two resolutions which called for the college foundation “to divest from companies that profit from Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine,” and the second one called to ban the Caterpillar company equipment from campus.
“The fact that it is the home town of Rachel Corrie’s parents and that it is represented by Rep Brian Baird (who has been to Gaza and is outspoken against Israel) makes this ripe for issues,” said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi of The Israel Project, a pro-Israel organization. “So does the fact that it does not have a very organized pro-Israel community. This went under the radar screen at a time when most groups were focused on Iran sanctions and other macro issues. It is clear that the people who voted on this did not hear both sides of the issues. What is needed is education on facts.”
An Israeli diplomatic source told Haaretz that the boycott issue is being checked, and although it seems like a marginal incident. The source added that “we are concerned about every attempt to delegitimize Israel.”
The Olympia Food Co-Op boycott is only a tiny part of an effort that the BDS (boycotts, divestment and sanctions) movement is mounting on U.S. companies. On Monday, Jewish Voice for Peace activists planned to attend the TIAA-CREF annual meeting the company headquarters in New York City to deliver thousands of signatures calling on the company to divest its money from Caterpillar, Elbit, Motorola and some other companies, that, as JVP puts it, “profit from the violation of international law through home demolitions, the destruction of life sustaining orchards, the construction of roads and transit that only Israelis can use, the killing of civilians by drones, and many other injustices.”
In some places the mainstream Jewish community has reacted vigorously against boycott attempts, but many Israel supporters are worried that the battle “might be already lost at the campuses.”