Members of the Park Slope Food Co-op, a bastion of organic food that caters to urban hippies in the upscale Brooklyn neighborhood, were set to vote Tuesday on whether to hold a referendum about boycotting products from Israel.
The proposal was put forth by the a group known as the Park Slope Food Co-op Members for Israeli Boycott Divestment Sanctions, who have urged their fellow shoppers to “help send a message to Israel that it must honor international law and human rights.”
In a statement to co-op members meant to persuade them to vote “yes” on holding the referendum, the BDS supporters wrote that boycotting products imported from Israel would “make the PSFC a more welcoming place for all people who want justice realized in Palestine ... We believe that BDS is one of multiple ways to participate in the global struggle against all forms of oppression.”
The issue of whether to ban Israeli products at the co-op was raised back in 2009, but there was never agreement on how to proceed. Last month, the members finally came to a decision.
As Gothamist, a New York-based news website put it, “After years and years and years of debate the issue of banning Israeli products at the Park Slope Food Co-op is finally coming to a vote. Well. A vote to decide if it should come to a vote – this is the co-op, after all.”
The decision to hold a referendum has created divisions among the pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli members, with the pro-BDS members saying, “We understand that some of our fellow members may disagree with us. That’s ok. Real community — the kind PSFC aspires to be — is resilient enough to embrace respectful dialogue about our differences.”
The issue has elicited criticism from Israel supporters, including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other local politicians.
“These are businesses that should be run as businesses,” Bloomberg said on Monday, according to the New York Post. “I certainly am adamantly opposed to boycotting Israeli products ... Israel is a very important ally of America. We shouldn’t forget that.”
The New York Times on Tuesday reported that Bloomberg would encourage people to buy more Israeli-made products rather than join the boycott.
“The issue is there are people who want Israel to be torn apart and everybody to be massacred, and America is not going to let that happen,” Bloomberg said, according to the Times.
The paper reported that City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn called the idea “ill conceived” and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio called it “madness,” while Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer described the BDS proposal as “an anti-Semitic crusade.”
Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz spoke with local newspaper The Observer and criticized the boycott advocates, some of whom are liberal Jews: “That’s what these people are, they’re bigots,” Dershowitz was quoted as saying. “Many of them are anti-Semites. Some of them don’t know they’re anti-Semites. That doesn’t give them a pass.”
According to reports, items that would be affected by the boycott include produce, paprika, a make-your-own seltzer machine, vegan marshmallows and olive pesto.
The vote is scheduled to take place at 7 p.m. at Brooklyn Technical High School, which has an auditorium that can seat 3,000 people. The co-op had to move the meeting to a bigger location than the synagogue where its meetings are usually held due to the expected high turnout.
A referendum will be mailed out to the co-op’s 16,000 members if there is enough support for the BDS campaign.