Boycotting Israel and My Olive Tapenade

Feud at Park Slope Coop Left No Room for Feel-Good Products

Olive Options: Food writer Leah Koenig worried about missing her favorite olive spread, and the good work its Israeli manufacturer does, if her Brooklyn food coop had voted to boycott Israeli products.
leah koenig
Olive Options: Food writer Leah Koenig worried about missing her favorite olive spread, and the good work its Israeli manufacturer does, if her Brooklyn food coop had voted to boycott Israeli products.

By Leah Koenig

Published April 24, 2012, issue of April 27, 2012.
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There are, of course, serious challenges inherent to this type of culture and country-crossing venture — particularly when conflict flare-ups decrease mobility across borders. For example, PeaceWorks once sourced jars from an Egyptian company, but logistical challenges forced it to find other suppliers. Meanwhile, according to a 2010 feature about PeaceWorks on the Public Broadcasting Service, the growers and factory workers involved with producing Meditalia often feel pressure to keep their joint efforts quiet, lest they attract negative attention from unsympathetic markets.

And yet despite the hurdles, hundreds of thousands of jars of Meditalia pesto and tapenade are sold each year. “The relationships we have forged over the last two decades have withstood the vicissitudes of the conflict,” said PeaceWorks’ president, Joshua Scherz. In addition to the direct cooperation fostered through its products, Meditalia donates 5% of its profits to support OneVoice — a grassroots organization that, co-founded by Lubetzky, empowers a growing network of young Israeli and Palestinian peace activists working to promote a two-state solution.

PeaceWorks’ tapenades and pesto sauces are a symbol of the immensely complicated situation in the Middle East and a reminder that the moderate voices on both sides of the debate tend to get drowned out by more extreme views. But they also show how cooperation, and working together across differences, can bring meaningful change. The blanket boycott on Israeli goods proposed at the Park Slope Food Coop did not take into account gray-area products like Meditalia. And that is unfortunate. Perhaps moving forward, co-op members — and consumers everywhere — should focus on rewarding those companies that choose to defy the status quo, putting peace (and really good tapenade) over profit and politics.

Leah Koenig writes a monthly column for the Forward on food and culinary trends. Contact her at ingredients@forward.com


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