The Magazine

Only in New York

The battle of the Park Slope Food Coop.

Apr 9, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 29 • By ZACK MUNSON
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Over the course of three years, the advocates and opponents of the boycott organized themselves into more official forms of advocacy and opposition. The wannabe-boycotters aligned themselves with the international anti-Israel movement Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) and established the Park Slope Food Coop Members for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (PSFC BDS for short). PSFC BDS launched a website in July 2011, offering information on Israeli human rights abuses, statements of support from like-minded organizations, and information on such events as a recent seminar entitled “Food Justice & Ecological Damage in Israel/Palestine.” Their home-page declares that they “are members of the Park Slope Food Coop (PSFC) who affirm .  .  . that the coop as a community stands for human rights, food justice and positive global interdependence” before making the dubious assertion,“We are like you.”

On the other side stands the anti-boycott group More Hummus, Please, started by longtime coop member Barbara Mazor in the spring of 2011. “We joined the coop for the food. We didn’t join to have our politics decided for us,” their website explains. Or, as she put it to me, “We didn’t want BDS, because then we’d have to deal with reporters.” (Sorry, Barbara.) Mazor is a staunch supporter of Israel and believes that simply holding a referendum on the boycott is tantamount to “endorsing the position that Jews are not a national group and are not entitled to self-determination.” As she wrote in the initial blog post on the More Hummus, Please website, “BDS is Bigotry. Dishonesty. Anti-Semitism.”

While these two groups have had at it, many coop members, it appears, have focused on the bigger picture: “What about the quinoa?” In a recent Linewaiters’ editorial, Joe Holtz, a cofounder of the coop, urged members to return to their founding principles:

The International Cooperative Alliance Statement on Cooperative Identity states clearly that coops are not organized for the purpose of taking political positions. .  .  . Members do not expect the Coop to weigh in on whether or not social security should be privatized or what to do about the war in Afghanistan.

Many members oppose the referendum not necessarily out of sympathy for Israel, but out of a desire to keep the coop from tearing itself apart over the issue. And it would be a real tragedy if the coop did tear itself apart because the store is .  .  . well, I don’t really know what it’s like. They wouldn’t let a nonmember like me inside. But I’m sure it’s great.

None of these protestations stopped PSFC BDS from pushing forward. In July 2011, they submitted the boycott referendum as an official agenda item. After a few more months of letter writing and blogging, the March 27 vote on whether to vote was set.

The general meeting is usually held in a Park Slope synagogue, but this time the coop is expecting far more than the 300 or so members who usually show up. So the meeting has been moved to Brooklyn Tech High School in adjacent Fort Greene, and it’s a good thing, too: Standing outside Brooklyn Tech about 45 minutes before the meeting, the line to get in already stretches the length of a full city block. And plenty of nonmembers are there to voice their solidarity with one side or another. The BDSers stand outside the entrance with signs and pamphlets, and right next to them is a group from Negev Nectars, an Israeli food company, handing out free samples of the wares they hope one day to sell in the coop. The three news trucks (NY1, WPIX, and FOX5), the reporters, the photographers, students shooting a film—it all seems like overkill. But then again, I’m here.

The line stretches all the way down one block, around a corner, all the way down that block, and around a corner again, with members filing in very slowly. There are a few coop volunteers in crossing-guard vests, making sure only members get in, imparting instructions on how to sign in and prove one’s identity once inside. Most of the linewaiters bear the delay and the standing and the cold in good cheer. Inspired by all this cooperation, and forgetting the nature of the crowd, I light up a cigarette. Immediately a woman on line about 10 feet away begins to glare. She tells me I should go smoke “half a block down.” A fellow smoker, one of the BDSers, shoots me a sympathetic look. “This is America, right?” I ask him. “Well,” he shrugs, “this is New York.”

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