An Open Letter to Boycott Opponents from Olympia BDS
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.
I got to stand and talk with Tibor and others today at the co-op for about an hour before my volunteer shift. It was an interesting conversation and good. I am glad that I got to visit.
I have some new thoughts (and would welcome those of others) on why I think it is wrong to pressure the Board to rescind the boycott.
Letter to the Editor by Anne Fischel in today's Olympian about community divisions and polarization surrounding the conflict in Israel/Palestine: http://www.theolympian.com/2010/09/30/1386814/some-lives-more-valued.html. Anne's letter is important because it testifies to predisposed polarization—polarization that has been present previous to the OFC boycott.
Disclaimer: This is a rough draft (please forgive the disorganization, and incomplete thoughts, of which I am aware) but I want to get these thoughts out. And also, this represents my current thinking, which is (as is everything) subject to change.
Over two months ago the Oly Food Co-op Board of Directors decided to boycott products from Israel. The Evergreen student body similarly voted for TESC to divest from Israel earlier this year. However, unlike the decision at Evergreen, the Co-op Board decision has created a stir, not only in the community of people who love and care about the Co-op, but in larger parts of the Olympia community and beyond. In fact the decision by the much loved and humble OFC has attracted a considerable amount of international attention.
The conflict in Israel/Palestine is a big deal. For example, what is happening there has major ramifications. The US government supports the government of Israel, despite its abuses. This is a glaring example of wrong that many people around the world point to in disgust and frustration. Many people around the world are opposed to US militarism, interventionism, and policies of dominance.
However, there is a lot of disagreement about the decision—and for a lot of different reasons (and some of the reasons probably make more sense than others.) There is polarization. There is "division." And this last part is what interests me: this division. Some people have argued that the boycott decision created division—that the decision in and of itself caused division—that it was divisive. The more I think about this, the more I am inclined to listen to that argument and grant it some merit—Although it is very complicated.
It seems to me that the boycott has definitely caused hurt feelings. But in terms of where it's caused "division" it's more difficult to say. Because divisions about the conflict in Israel/Palestine already existed, and have existed for a long time.
Update 9 Sep '10: In order to illuminate the local relevance of the following story from B'Tselem, about water in the Gaza Strip, I am adding the following preface:
One aspect of the conversation that has come up about the Oly Food Co-op boycott of products from Israel is the idea that it would have been better to pursue dialogue and seek consensus before enacting an agreement and engaging in the removal of products from shelves. I have heard that it would have been better to do this even if it would have taken "years" to reach a mutually agreeable consensus amongst all stake-holders.
The following article makes it clear to me why there is reason—urgent reason—to NOT delay, and to instead pursue BDS vigorously and assertively. There is good reason to proceed with urgency.
Because BDS seeks to address Aggression committed by the government of Israel against Palestinians, it makes sense to pursue BDS as a tactic in a way that mirrors the urgency of the crisis wrought by those same crimes against peace and crimes against humanity.
I also want to add something that I think should seem obvious, but goes without being stated nearly as often as I believe is justified by its importance in the ongoing conflict. (And please cut me some slack and forgive me if I am not stating this in the most sensitive manner.) What I am thinking about is that the cause of "Palestinian violence toward Israel/Israelis" is the very same apartheid to which they have been subjected. The Nakba. The creation of the Jewish State, unwelcome to so many—the great many whose concerns were invalidated and whose resistance stomped down with military force and precision.
Tuesday 31 August 2010, Olympia, Washington—Palestinian-American Ali Abunimah gave a presentation about BDS and the situation in Israel Palestine before an audience of about 120 people at the Olympia Center. Abunimah is a journalist, a co-founder of Electronic Intifada, and an author, including most recently of, One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. The event was organized and hosted by Olympia BDS.
Peace talks between representatives from Israel and the Palestinian Territories are scheduled to start tomorrow (Thursday,) but Abunimah said the expectations of many people are low, because of a precedent of bad-faith negotiations. He used a metaphor of pizza pie to explain the negotiations. For example, analogous to the occupation of the West Bank would be if he were to sit down to negotiation and immediately begin by grabbing pizza and stuffing it into his mouth, and if his partner were to complain, or to try grabbing some pizza for theirself, then he would slap them and chastise them for it.
Why I Support the Boycott of Israeli Goods from the Olympia Food Coop
By Peter Bohmer
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Peter Bohmer's ZSpace Page
The decision by the board of the Olympia Food Coop to not buy Israeli made goods and boycott them is a positive and important contribution towards ending the Israeli occupation of Palestine. It is part of a global grassroots boycott, divest and sanctions (BDS) movement to pressure the United States and Israel to fundamentally change their policies. I strongly support this courageous and important decision made by consensus by the Olympia Food Coop board on July, 15th, 2010.
I am currently reading the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Stride Toward Freedom. The book is an account of the bus boycott of 1955-56 in Montgomery Alabama. It's a fascinating read, and I recommend it to anyone and everyone. There are some interesting parallels between the situation in the South in the 1950s and the situation today in Israel/Palestine. Some of the ideas in Dr. King's account helped me to formulate this statement to the Olympia Food Co-op Board of Directors in regard to the ongoing boycott of products from Israel:
Thank you to the Olympia Food Co-op Board of Directors for holding fast on the boycott of products from Israel. This boycott amounts to noncooperation with injustice. The way that the government of Israel and some Israelis are treating Palestinians is unacceptable. The decision to boycott was correct. Israel needs to change, for the good of both Palestinians and Jews. When our government is unaccountable to the interests of human rights (and even life itself,) a courageous and principled and strong stand like this of the co-op is truly awesome and inspiring—and necessary. Human rights are for everyone. Thank you again for this courageous act of noncooperation!
For all the dialogues, discussions, debates, and supposed "divisiveness" around the Olympia Food Co-op's recent boycott of Israeli goods, one party's voice has been shamefully excluded -- that of Palestinians. Judging by the extent of discourse in this community, one could reasonably assume that Palestinians have no say in the matter.
Ali Abunimah, co-founder of the Electronic Intifada, is one of the most prominent Palestinian-American commentators on the Israel/Palestine conflict. He is coming to Olympia to explain why boycott is an important component for peace and justice for Palestine and Israel.
Ali Abunimah has published articles in the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and the Los Angeles Times, and has appeared as a commentator on CNN, MSNBC, Al-Jazeera and other television news programs.
Abunimah was born to a refugee mother from the eradicated Palestinian village of Lifta and a father from Battir in the currently occupied West Bank.
One thought that I have been having recently in regard to the situation in Israel/Palestine is about how people have been drawn into activism on this issue. For example, one way that I look at the situation is that given the tremendous suffering and injustice that Jews experienced in Nazi Europe, it is sad that the State of Israel, and some Jews, are treating Palestinians so poorly, in many cases exactly the same as Jews were treated by Nazis in Europe. That sense of injustice is very gripping, and helps to provoke my involvement.
It is further frustrating to me, as I am sure it is to many others, because the crimes against humanity, and crimes against peace, that are committed by the State of Israel are wholly enabled by the USA. In light of this and other pertinent information (like the political economy of nuclear weapons,) I think it makes sense to understand that Israel is an exploited partner in US imperialism, and hegemonic policies of global dominance may very well be down at the deep bottom of this.
And that does nothing to change the fact of reality that what the State of Israel, and some Jews, are doing to Palestinians is unacceptable and must change.
Back to the topic of being drawn into this issue: I was new to Olympia in March 2003, at the time when Rachel Corrie died. I had only been here for about six months. The story of Rachel's death was captivating. Being killed while defending a home against destruction by bulldozer: defending the home of a family that had committed no offense. That's a gripping tale for sure. And so I thank Rachel Corrie for spurring my awareness, and certainly that of many others, on this important issue. I think that will be a big part of the legacy of Rachel's life: helping people to come to awareness of, and to better understand the situation.
Here's another look at the present situation, thanks to the talented photographers at ActiveStills. This is a scene from Rafah, from a couple of days ago: