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Brooklyn wins 1-1!

Netanyahu supporters at home and abroad might chalk up as a win the decision to shelve the Park Slope boycott initiative -- but it is a hollow triumph

How can a 1,005 to 653 vote end in a tie? It depends on what the vote is about and who parses the result.  On March 27, members of the Park Slope Food Coop, now probably the most famous member-owned grocery store on Earth, met to discuss an issue that has been roiling in the aisles and in the store’s bi-weekly paper for years: to BDS or not to BDS?

For those unfamiliar with the acronym (or for those who often confuse it with BDSM — an altogether different campaign), BDS began in 2005 with a call by pro-Palestinian activists to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel until, supporters claim, the occupation ends and all matters, as they relate to Palestinians inside and outside the Green Line, are resolved. Critics claim BDS is seeking to delegitimize and ultimately destroy Israel. Although the movement has scored few tangible successes, it has attracted a lot of media and parliamentary attention.

In July 2011, a bill proposed by Likud MK Zeev Elkin (with the full-throated support of the Netanyahu government), whereby calling for a boycott of Israel from within Israel would be deemed a civil offense, became Israeli law. Anyone making such a call could be sued in civil court and, if found guilty, would have to pay damages even if the boycott call resulted in no actual damages to the target of the boycott.

Local grocery stores in Brooklyn, however, fall outside Israeli jurisdiction. Although, had Bibi Netanyahu organized an Entebbe-like raid, coop members could have found themselves inside a C-130 non-stop to Tel Aviv to face charges filed by the producers of the five products that were potential targets of the boycott. (The makers of the olive tapenade, I understand, would have particularly chuffed.)

And so, at the General Meeting on March 27, members cast their fateful vote. The sides were particularly vituperative, passionate and vocal — and despite calls by Daily Show correspondent Samantha Bee for a “two shelf solution,” there would be no compromise. The members would decide “yea” or “nay” on BDS… or would they?

As it turns out, in Talmudic fashion, the coop members at the General Meeting did not vote on whether they would boycott Israeli products. Instead, they voted on whether the coop would vote about voting on whether they would boycott Israeli products. The motion failed and, thus, the general membership would not get the opportunity to vote about a boycott.

So who carried the day? Anti-BDS folks declared an obvious victory. The Park Slope Food Coop will continue to carry Yehuda Matzah and olive tapenade and the three other Israeli products on their shelves without partition, thank you very much.

However, BDS supporters claimed victory as well. Though the vote did not ultimately go their way, 40 percent of coop members publicly supported a movement that, until recent years, was on the margins. Additionally, more people now know what BDS is. Mainstream media outlets, including the “locals” Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, covered the conflict and bantered boycott for many news cycles.  Peter Beinart’s book “The Crisis of Zionism” also highlights BDS, albeit in the last half-dozen pages, and proposes a kosher version for liberal Zionist consumption (more like not-consumption — it is a boycott after all). Boycotts have a potentially broad appeal as they are a non-violent and — for the social-media minded consumer — convenient way to exercise political power without standing in the rain on being pepper-sprayed by police.

For this reason, the Netanyahu government and its supporters at home and abroad might chalk up this one in the win column — but it is a hollow triumph. The BDS campaign had a setback in Brooklyn last week, but as any baseball fan will tell you, the season is long and demanding, and as Vin Scully said: “Losing feels worse than winning feels good.”

About the Author
Dr. Dan Aviv is a Jewish educator and hack writer in Toronto, Ontario. He is also a podcaster, producer, and proud father of three.