BDS Campaign targeting MEC’s ties to Israeli Apartheid Continues – On April 30th, members of Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) brought a resolution to the Co-op”s Annual General meeting calling for MEC to halt business ties with Israel.
Mountain Equipment Co-op, a Canada-wide chain, currently sources over 30 individual products from Israeli companies. These include products made by Source-Vagabond, an Israeli military contractor whose founder, Yoki Gill, and most its management are “experienced ex officers of elite IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) units” (see http://www.source-military.com/gov_overview.asp). MEC also partners with Israeli factories in the production of its “housebrand” line of seamless undergarments.
The campaign to persuade MEC to end its unethical purchasing of Israeli products is part of the growing worldwide movement for
Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel due to the system of apartheid and occupation that it has perpetrated against the people of Palestine for over 60 years. This movement is a response to the call from over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations in July 2005 to implement a global campaign of BDS against Israel, similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era.
Mountain Equipment Co-op promotes itself as an organization with “rigorous ethical sourcing requirements” and professes to believe that “business can advance human rights.” Therefore, members of MEC believe that the Co-op”s business relations with companies profiting from Israeli war crimes are incompatible with any sense of “ethical purchasing.”
HOW THE CAMPAIGN BEGAN
In the lead-up to the AGM, a number of concerned members of MEC raised this issue with the management and Board of Directors. Eventually this became a coordinated effort, and the Vancouver-based Boycott Israeli Apartheid Campaign (BIAC), most of whose members are also MEC members, became involved in coordinating a strategy leading up to the AGM.
Initially in meetings facilitated through BIAC, the resolution to be brought to the MEC AGM was discussed and drafted. We began to outreach to other MEC members who we thought would be concerned their co-op was supporting Israeli apartheid, and a meeting was arranged between concerned MEC members and David Labistour, the CEO of Mountain Equipment Co-op.
MEC MANAGEMENT DECIDES TO “NOT TAKE SIDES”…. BY CONTINUING TO TAKE ISRAEL”S SIDE
Prior to the AGM, the response of the CEO and Ethical Sourcing Director were consistently against halting MEC”s relationships with
Israeli companies. According to them, MEC shouldn”t “take sides,” and would only support this campaign if the Canadian government and the UN decided to do so. It was also stressed that the Co-op”s ethical sourcing policy was only meant to apply to individual companies on a case-by-case basis.
We have included an appendix to this report outlining our responses to these very weak arguments against a MEC boycott of Israel in general and war profiteers like Source Vagabond in particular. In numerous exchanges both before the AGM and during the debate on the resolution these arguments were challenged, but to no avail. At this point the MEC management and board still appear unwilling to educate themselves about the true situation facing Palestinian people and the apartheid nature of Israel.
THE ANTI-PALESTINIAN BACKLASH BEGINS
Once this campaign became public knowledge, an intense and well-organized campaign was launched across Canada to try and crush it. The Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, Canada-Israel Committee, Canadian Jewish Congress-Pacific Region and Vancouver Hillel Foundation issued a joint call for action, urging its supporters to attend the AGM if they were MEC members and vote down the resolution. MEC staff members began receiving hundreds of emails and phone calls threatening the Co-op if it were to cut ties with Israel.
Several CanWest newspapers, including The Vancouver Sun, ran very misleading articles about the proposed resolution against MEC”s business ties with Israel, along with editorials condemning our campaign and any comparisons of Israel to Apartheid South Africa. Michael Elterman, chairman of the Canada-Israel Committee – Pacific Region, was given space to write an editorial in the Vancouver Sun just one day before the Mountain Equipment Co-op AGM, where he wrote that “this slanderous comparison denigrates the horrific experience suffered by South Africans under real apartheid conditions.”
THE DAY OF THE AGM
On the day of the MEC AGM, both supporters and opponents of the resolution arrived at the location and began lining up hours in
advance of the meeting. Just before the scheduled meeting time, the meeting chair announced that the room was over capacity, which is unprecedented for an MEC AGM.
When it came time for the resolution to be heard, the chair allowed a MEC member to move the motion, followed by speakers from the floor both for an against.
One person that spoke against the motion repeated the typical pro-Israeli arguments denouncing the global BDS campaign as
anti-semitic. The rest used the same type of language as MEC”s CEO and management that this was a “misuse” of MEC”s ethical sourcing policy without addressing the substance of the motion. None responded to Israel’s war crimes, human rights violations, or atrocities against Palestinians. The MEC members who supported the resolution spoke clearly and passionately about the need for MEC to halt its ties with Israeli companies, and directly rebutted the arguments made by the opponents of the resolution.
In the end, the resolution was defeated, with roughly a third of the MEC members present at the meeting voting for the resolution and the other two thirds against it.
WHY THIS CAMPAIGN HAS ONLY JUST BEGUN
For the most part, those MEC members who came to this AGM to vote for the resolution that members of BIAC put forward came to the meeting already committed to supporting the Palestinian struggle for self-determination. However, there are many other members of MEC who are unaware of the conditions Palestinians are struggling against, and there is much work to be done to change this. Since its founding in 1948, the State of Israel has systematically oppressed the Palestinian people and denied them the fundamental rights of freedom, equality and self-determination. The ongoing colonization and illegal occupation of Palestine is defined by racism, dispossession, and brutal violence, as the recent massacre of 1300 people in Gaza has demonstrated.
We are asking MEC members of conscience to not buy any products from MEC that are made in Israel, and make sure to write MEC to let them know about your decision. Email MEC at info[at]mec.ca, or call 604-707-3300. You can also continue to share your comments and feelings on this issue by visiting MEC’s Ethical Sourcing Blog:
If you are interested in getting involved in this campaign to demand that MEC stop supporting Israeli apartheid, please get in touch with the Boycott Israeli Apartheid Campaign. Whether you live in Vancouver, another city with a local MEC store, or anywhere else, there are many ways to make this campaign grow and become a success! There are many opportunities along the way to raise the issue of Palestine, and provide avenues to educate people about the true nature of Israel and the need to support the Palestinian struggle for peace, justice and self-determination.
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APPENDIX 1: THE DRAFT RESOLUTION
A Proposed Resolution Concerning Mountain Equipment Coop and its relationship with Israeli companies
April 30th 2009
Whereas many members have expressed concern over Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) “partnering” with Israeli companies to produce MEC brand products;
And whereas Israel is currently defying more than 30 UN Security Council Resolutions pertaining to its illegal occupation of
Palestinian territory, and is in flagrant violation of international humanitarian law codified under the Geneva Conventions, as affirmed by the International Court of Justice in 2004;
And whereas on July 9, 2005, 171 Palestinian organizations called upon ethical people and organizations around the world to implement a global campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era;
And whereas South African leaders have condemned Israel’s system of discrimination against the Palestinians that Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said “reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa” and Arun Gandhi has said “is ten times worse than what I had experienced in South Africa,” and as former South African cabinet minister Ronnie Kasrils has said the world “can not allow Israel to continue perpetrating apartheid” and former US president Jimmy Carter has called Israel’s humanitarian blockade of Gaza “one of the greatest human rights crimes on Earth”;
And whereas MEC house brand “partner” Source Vagabond is an Israeli military designer and contractor that boasts on its website
http://source-military.com) “[Founder] Yoki and most of the members of our R&D team are experienced ex-officers of elite IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) units”;
And whereas MEC “partnering” with factories in Israel is incompatible with MEC’s promotion of itself as an organization with “rigorous ethical sourcing requirements,” its stated policy of “improving the social and environmental impacts of our products” and its professed belief that “business can advance human rights”;
Therefore be it resolved that we call on the MEC Board of Directors to halt all dealings with Israeli companies and to reverse its position on sourcing from Israel.
APPENDIX 2: RESPONSES TO MEC MANAGEMENT AND CEO OPPOSITION TO HALTING ITS TIES WITH ISRAELI APARTHEID
Prior to the AGM, both in our meeting with the MEC CEO and the numerous exchanges via email and telephone, the CEO and the Co-op”s Ethical Sourcing Director were consistently against halting MEC”s relationships with Israeli companies for the following three reasons:
1. “We don”t want to take sides in this conflict:” This justification was repeatedly made by Harvey Chan, despite the fact that, through helping increase sales for companies profiting from Israeli apartheid and occupation, MEC is quite clearly already taking sides: the side responsible for a policy of ethnic cleansing against Palestinians.
2. “Our ethical sourcing policy is intended to be applied on a business-by-business level:” If this policy was the one to be followed
by MEC during the days of Apartheid South Africa, then what the MEC”s CEO and other management are saying is that they would have had no problem dealing with South African Companies; the worldwide campaign of boycott, divestment, and sanctions of Apartheid South Africa was directed at any trade with businesses in South Africa.
3. “We will take the lead from the United Nations and Canada on this”: Israel is currently defying more than 30 UN Security Council
Resolutions pertaining to its illegal occupation of Palestinian territory, and is in flagrant violation of international humanitarian
law codified under the Geneva Conventions, as affirmed by the International Court of Justice in 2004.
The United Nations, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and a coalition of 9 Israeli human rights groups have called for an
independent international investigation into what the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights called Israel”s “war crime of the greatest magnitude” in Gaza including:
“¢ Shelling of three UN schools sheltering refugees on Jan. 6 and Jan. 15, killing more than 42 civilians,
“¢ The Zeitoun massacre (Jan. 5) – the Israeli army herded families into a house and then shelled the house killing 30 civilians. Medical crews were prevented from reaching the wounded for four days.
“¢ The banned use of White Phosphorous weapons in densely populated residential areas, including the January 15 attacks on Al-Quds hospital and the UN Headquarters in Gaza City.
“¢ Attacks on medical facilities and personnel such as: killing at least 13 and injuring 22 on-duty medical personnel, shelling three
hospitals, three mobile clinics, and 15 ambulances.
“¢ Deliberate targeting of civilian infrastructure: universities, water and sewage facilities, mosques, etc.
As for Canada, MEC should not expect any “lead” on this issue that involves respecting the right of Palestinians, to peace, freedom from human rights abuses by Israel, and self-determination. Canada is a long-time close ally with Israel with strong political and economic ties, and this support has only gotten stronger in recent years.
Canada’s minority Conservative government was the only country to vote against a recent resolution at the U.N. Human Rights Council condemning Israel”s grave human rights violations against Palestinian civilians. Canada was also the first country (after Israel) to cut off financial aid to the elected Hamas government.