Why I support the Olympia Co-op boycott

by Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb on August 4, 2010

Dear friends,

The Olympia Food Co-op boycott of Israeli products (except for fair trade olive oil) has generated much controversy and emotion. I do pray for healing and understanding among those who support and those who oppose such a boycott in the community of Olympia, Washington and around the world. All of us must stand together and mourn the loss of life generated by this conflict. May their memories be a blessing.

The Food Co-op and many concerned citizens around the world have asked the question: How do we transform the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the use of nonviolence? What is meaningful action?

While negotiations, lobbying and dialogue occur, those who have been directly impacted by occupation, the Palestinians, have called upon the world to engage in meaningful nonviolent action to apply pressure upon Israel so that Israel cannot conduct the business of occupation as usual. Have we all not seen and read about life in Palestine under occupation? The Goldstone report, B’tselem, Gisha and many other organizations and individuals have documented the systematic violation of Palestinian human rights in the past several years. How do we both construct peace and engage in non-cooperation with policies that systematically violate human rights on a daily basis?

Boycott is a time honored method which was the catalyst that ended legal segregation in the United States. Boycott is the primary tool of those engaged in nonviolent resistance to systematic injustice. Boycott targets unjust policies. It is not about ‘the right to exist’; Everyone has the right to ‘exist’. Rather, boycott is a tool that focuses on the right to live a life free from a policy of land seizure, internal transfer, administrative detention and other forms of violent and harmful actions levied against people who do not want to give up their land.

I want to explain my personal reasons for supporting the decision of the Co-op not to limit their boycott to the West Bank. I believe that the articulation of a position that there is a line that separates products ‘made in the West Bank’ and those ‘made in Israel’ is difficult to stand by if you look deeply at the issue.

1) The mechanics of occupation is not limited to the West Bank. I’m sure you’ve all heard about the 300 bedouin Palestinians made homeless two days ago, in the Negev settlement known as al-Araqib, homes destroyed by the way with a Caterpillar bulldozer flying an Israeli flag. This is an ongoing reality of Palestinian life under occupation, that is, the loss of land. Now, almost 80% of of West Bank land is considered Israeli State land. Palestinian families are continually being driven from their homes.

Furthermore, Israel inside the green line is the agency of occupation and conducts, plans, prepares and executes aspects of the occupation from inside the green line.

2) Israel prevents Palestinian exports from reaching their destination all the time. Trying to sell West Bank products in Israel or abroad is a seriously challenging issue. Bottles are smashed, fruit is left to rot, clothes are ruined. This happens in the intersection of borders. Palestinians and their products have no right to any border passage. All movement of people and goods is controlled by Israel.

3) Lest we forget Gaza and the closure. 60% of Gazans suffer food insecurity. That is truly a stunning number. 90% of the products sold in Gaza come from Israel. Why? No manufacture is allowed in Gaza due to shortages of materials. Farmers are shoot dead in their fields all the time. Fisherman are prevented from fishing. The closure has not been lifted. Hence, the application of boycott until such time as the borders are open and people and goods can come and go according to international standards of passage.

4) While I believe we must be understanding, compassionate, gracious and clear in the use of our language when engaging with those who do not support nonviolent means of conflict transformation such as boycott, BDS is really about focusing on Israel’s occupation of Palestinian towns, villages and farm land including East Jerusalem, the Negev, the Galilee, Ramlah, Jaffo, Lod, Nazereth, Acco and the West Bank. The BDS movement has been very clear about including Palestinians living inside Israel as part of the educational effort around human rights issues facing the Palestinian community inside the green line.

5) All use of anti-Semitic language or rhetoric, or the slandering of others as anti-Semites or self-hating Jews must be opposed. Our common ground, support of those who suffer indignities, should be the focus.

Supporters of boycott are asking people to shift loyalties from partisan support of one side or the other to positions based on universal standards of human rights. Those who support boycott are creating a broad based multifaith and multicultural coalition that crosses boundaries and unites people based on what kinds of behavior should not be tolerated by nation states according to principles of international law.

My own activism includes standards of food justice based on access and human rights in the United States as well as other countries. I do not buy a range of products based on human rights standards. The Food Co-op shares this ethic. Fair Trade standards underlay their decision.

My support for the Olympia Food Co-op is for these reasons. Groups that are limiting their boycott to ‘Israeli settlement products’, or to corporations that profit from occupation (such as the JVP campaign) can still reach out in support of those who have taken a broader stance. This is a movement issue.

Finally, there is the matter of Rachel Corrie. Like Rachel, those who decided to boycott Israeli products have taken a meaningful action that supports their desire to end occupation. They are moved to action from on the ground experiences. As a forty year veteran of this issue, I, too have witnessed what is happening on the ground and I am moved to be part of the effort to change Israeli policy. I do this from a love of people. I believe that Jewish tradition stands with me. Not profiting or benefiting from the fruits of violence is a central tenet of a life committed to nonviolence. Since the Jewish state is acting in my name, I am forced to withdraw support for Israeli food products until the closure is lifted, the policy of land seizure ends and negotiations are taken up in a meaningful way. This does not mean I am cutting off my relationships to the people I love on both sides. May all efforts to construct peace continue. Meaningful nonviolent resistance to injustice is part of the equation.

The Food Co-op community went beyond endless discussions of exactly how one should act to resolve conflict, and they acted. Whether people agree or disagree with the particulars of any given action, at least support the courage of people who are willing to act in behalf of those who are suffering on a daily basis. May the process of reparative justice truly begin.

Lynn Gottlieb

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