OLYMPIA - Olympia Food Co-op members will get another chance next month to discuss a controversial board decision to boycott Israeli products at its two stores.
Nine of the co-op board’s 10 members voted Thursday to participate in the international boycott. Harry Levine, a staff representative to the board, said he didn’t take a stand on the issue.
Not everyone on the co-op staff agrees with the decision, Levine said. He said that outside of his role as a board member, he supports it.
“My personal view is that boycotts can be effective tools in changing governments,” he said. “I personally support it, and I’m an American Jew.”
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The board voted to boycott Israeli products as a way to “compel Israel to follow international law and respect Palestinian human rights,” according to a statement the board released. The boycott announcement has been posted on the co-op’s website, www.olympiafood.coop, as well as at its two stores.
Israeli products removed from the stores include gluten-free crackers, ice cream cones and a moisturizing cream, Levine said.
This is not the first time that the 33-year-old co-op has taken part in a boycott, he said. It has boycotted products from Norway and China in objection to whaling and human rights violations.
Members have been asking the board since at least 2008 to boycott Israeli products, Levine said. About 50 co-op members were at Thursday’s board meeting, he said. The co-op has 15,000 to 20,000 members who are considered active. It costs $29 over a period of four years to join the co-op, although $24 of that is refundable if a member leaves.
Since last week’s vote, the co-op has received more positive than negative e-mails from all over the world about the decision, as well as phone calls, Levine said. An employee who answered the phone at the co-op’s east-side location Tuesday said the store had received a “few hundred calls.”
Some e-mails also were sent to The Olympian.
Rabbi Seth Goldstein of Olympia, whose wife, Rabbi Yohanna Kinberg, contacted the paper by e-mail, won’t shop at the co-op as result of the board’s decision, and the couple are considering “resigning” as co-op members. They had shopped at the store for about eight years, he said.
Goldstein said boycotts are counterproductive to a true and lasting peace in the Middle East, and he took issue with the process leading up to the board’s decision.
“This is a pretty big issue,” he said. “The membership was not informed in the decision process, which we feel is problematic.” Goldstein acknowledged that he was aware the co-op has a boycott policy, which is spelled out on the co-op website.
“Whenever possible, the Olympia Food Co-op will honor nationally recognized boycotts which are called for reasons that are compatible with our goals and mission statement,” it states.
Many co-op customers at the east-side store Tuesday said they were not familiar with the board decision; others said they were proud of the co-op’s activism but acknowledged that the Israeli/Palestinian issue is a thorny subject. Co-op member Katherine Davis-Delaney of Olympia said she was unhappy with the decision process on such a contentious issue, while Karen Eccles of Olympia said she supports the co-op but stopped short of taking sides on the issue.
“I support the co-op’s activism with regard to social justice,” she said.