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The Dishonesty of Park Slope Coop’s BDS Debate

While I am not a member of the Park Slope Food Coop, I can’t help but be pulled into the controversy surrounding a prized neighborhood institution as it debates whether or not to take a position on boycotting Israeli food products. The coop will vote on March 27th on whether or not to hold a referendum for the coop to join the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement. What I don’t understand is: What is the goal of the organizers of this effort? If their goal is to end Israel’s occupation and create a Palestinian state side by side with Israel, then this is the wrong way to go about it. If the goal is delegitimize Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign state, then full speed ahead.

For months now, I have been dissecting communications and articles by BDS activists, for a range of reasons, both personal and professional. In one case, I was helping a friend to decide whether or not to perform in Israel. That’s why I found myself going through literally dozens and dozens of Facebook posts imploring him not to frequent Israel, posted by BDS activists all apparently reading from the same hymnal.

It was an illuminating exercise. I discovered that many of the emails were orchestrated from activists in the UK and elsewhere in Europe, much less so from the Palestinian Authority areas (which I usually call Palestine), and a good amount from inside Israel from Israeli Jewish BDS activists. The language was almost uniformly against “Israeli apartheid,” and never once against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank or the onerous conditions still partly the domain of Israel regarding border crossing and closures in Gaza. In fact, there was almost zero distinction between the occupied territories and what I consider to be Israel proper (as does much of the world’s powers), Israel within the 1967 borders more or less.

There is a reason for this. BDS’s prime motivation, if their messaging is to be believed, is not to end the occupation at all; rather, it is to end Israel. This plays directly into the very hands of those who are maintaining the occupation and who have an interest, even, in strengthening the occupation.

Indeed, the Jewish settlers and their advocates on the right are the mirror image of the BDS activists on the left, wanting to blur the borders. In fact, a recent campaign by the settlers’ lobby and their advocates in the current Israeli Knesset passed a law that refused to condone the distinction between boycotts of Israeli goods inside Israel and in the occupied territories.

But peace activists like those in Peace Now and many Palestinian businesspeople inside the West Bank refuse to accept this, and have publicly acknowledged that they will purchase Israeli goods and products produced inside of Israel’s 1967 borders, while openly refusing to purchase goods made in the occupied areas as recognized by the majority of the world. Indeed, entire industries in Palestine, like the burgeoning high tech industry there, work in partnership with — and gain encouragement from — Israeli companies. The pieces of this puzzle are complex, but there is a necessity for honesty in this debate.

The Park Slope Food Coop, based on their own listings, actually carries very few Israeli-made products. But rather than boycott Israeli-made goods uniformly, if those who have brought this issue to the forefront were really concerned about ending the occupation, they would join with organizations like Peace Now and Americans for Peace Now to argue for boycotting goods produced in the occupied territories, but not inside Israel.

Therefore, as an example, take two Israeli products sold in the coop.

One is the pesto made by Peaceworks, a company set up precisely to promote cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians by a business entrepreneur who is also a peace activist. Here is a product description from the company website: “Since 1994, PeaceWorks Holdings LLC has been importing our line of Meditalia tapenades from Israel, by bringing together businesses over a wide region, to the benefit of everyone involved. The olives in the tapenades are grown in Palestinian villages; the tomatoes in Turkey; the glass jars are made in Egypt; and the finished product is created in Israel as a result of Israeli and Arab businessmen working together. PeaceWorks prides itself on selling healthful foods. Meditalia gourmet tapenades are vegetarian, vegan, cholesterol-free, without preservatives, without additives, and are a kosher product.” It is truly hard to argue that boycotting this product will do anything but inflame those who are anti-Israel in total and harden reaction on all sides of the divide.

A second product, the SodaStream seltzer maker, is produced by a global company with two facilities in Israel, one in the Alon Tavor industrial zone and the second being built in the Negev, but a third facility produces for the company in Mishor Adumim, the industrial zone for Maale Adumim, a large West Bank settlement outside of Israel, near Jerusalem. While it is likely that if and when a border is drawn between Israel and the new state of Palestine, Maale Adumim will be included within Israel’s borders — based on blueprints like the Geneva Initiative and the Clinton plan drawn by President Bill Clinton during his final term, the reality is that until these lines are drawn, the settlement of Maale Adumim continues to grow and to create facts on the ground that will impact the ability of a Palestinian state to, in fact, be created in a contiguous manner.

It is my understanding — though a request for comment from the company went unanswered — that the factory in the Negev will replace the one in Mishor Adumim, largely because the company is responding to pressure from its European clients. (Europe is Israel’s second largest trading partner and they have had an impact on this issue). So, if I were at the coop meeting — here’s what I would say: When the seltzer company moves its factory inside of Israel, we’ll be happy to continue to stock it; until then, we’ll stop. But, we’re fine with carrying products made inside of Israel.

I firmly believe in boycotting the settlement industries until final borders are drawn. I write this as someone who loves Israel with every fiber of my being — even with its imperfections ¬— and who also spends a lot of time there, as well as in the West Bank working with my Palestinian friends and colleagues. I go out of my way to add to the Israeli economy each time I’m there, partly because I honestly adore some Israeli made goods like clothes and jewelry and wine and partly because I want to support Israel. In fact, I go out of my way, when shopping in my favorite Jerusalem wine store, to tell the owner that I will not purchase wines made in the settlements.

I also believe that Israeli peace activists and their allies should lobby for efforts to redeploy economic subsidies and more inside the green line, to eradicate income inequality inside of Israel and to promote more opportunities and equality for Palestinian citizens inside of Israel. Otherwise, I believe that Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state is in grave danger.

There is a lot that can be done, even without an active peace process, to begin to dry up the settlement enterprise. Clearly, this is not the thinking of the current Israeli government. On the contrary. But this is precisely the type of agitation that activists who want to end the occupation should be exercising.

Notice here that I use terminology that the BDS movement almost never uses — I am talking about “inside” and “outside” of Israel based on a still to be negotiated border, but on a border nonetheless. There are honestly only two choices here — to fight to end the occupation and create two states for two people, or to do what the BDS movement seems to want to accomplish, start now to advocate for just one state. That’s a debate, too, that we can have, but let’s be forthright about what is being debated here.

Jo-Ann Mort is vice chair of Americans for Peace Now and a frequent Forward contributor. She is CEO of ChangeCommunications, which works with clients in the US, Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

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