I was right! Food Co-op is not considering Israel ban

The area of my expertise
Here’s our editor Gersh Kuntzman doing what he does even better than being our editor: working the checkout line at the Food Co-op.
Amy Saidens

Sorry to tell my colleagues in the media, but Tuesday night’s meeting of the Park Slope Food Co-op did not turn into the anti-Israel paroxysm you all wanted.

Last week, I became the lone journalist (in the nation, it appeared) who reported the emmes, to use the Yiddish word for truth, that the famously liberal, member’s-only supermarket on Union Street was NOT — I repeat, not — considering a ban on Israeli-made or -grown products.

All this talk of a ban — whipped up first by the Jewish Forward and then repeated (like a blood libel?) around the world by bloggers who seem to regard the 16,000-member market as some kind of anti-Israel hotbed rather than a great place for hothouse tomatoes — stemmed from a single stray comment by a woman at last month’s meeting.

“I don’t know whether or not we carry Israeli products,” said the woman, who identified herself as Hima, “but I propose that we no longer carry them.”

Sorry, but that’s now how it works at America’s largest, member-run food cooperative. Stray comments at a Park Slope Food Co-op general meeting don’t become Co-op law until there has been extensive debate, discussion and more mudslinging than at an organic composting facility.

And that’s just to get the item on the AGENDA for an upcoming meeting! You should have seen the battle over selling beer! An earlier proposal to sell meat nearly ended in murder (of humans, not cattle)!

Alas, the above fact didn’t matter to America’s blogosphere, which ran with the story that the Co-op was considering a blockade of Israel, from which it buys some persimmons and red peppers.

“Park Slope Food Coop Bans Israeli Food,” read the headline on New York Magazine’s Grub Street blog.

“Food Fight: Brooklyn Co-op Mulls Israel Ban,” read the headline in the original Forward article that set off the explosion of coverage.

Only the New York Post seems to have gotten the story right by doing what it does best — taking the grain of truth and calling Assemblyman Dov Hikind to get angry about it.

“ ‘Ban Israel’ Bid Mushrooms into B’klyn Food Fight,” said the Post headline — accurate, of course, because the Post created the “food fight” itself.

Like any “decent” “reporter,” I’d heard about Hima’s comments at the January meeting and knew there was a great story here. But a few phone calls and a little shoe leather revealed that Hima did not do the necessary paperwork to get her “Israel ban” on the agenda for Tuesday night’s February meeting.

Oh, and there’s paperwork!

The instructions alone on “How to Develop an Agenda Item for the General Meeting,” is two pages, single-spaced. Then the submission form for said agenda item requires an essay.

That’s not to say that the word “Israel” was not muttered at the meeting. Two members spoke about the supposed “ban”: One woman, an “original” member from 1973, objected to even talk of a boycott, even though she celebrated the Co-op’s history of such activism for “worthy” causes like “lettuce and grape growers.”

And Rabbi Andy Bachman, also a Co-op member, said he wouldn’t support a ban on Israel produce, but would relish a Co-op debate over it.

“The idea of being in a community means accepting the responsibility of debating the values of that community,” he said.

And that was that.

The remainder of the “open forum” session consisted of the Co-op’s bread-and-butter: a request to be given only one make-up shift for missing a scheduled work slot instead of two, a suggestion that there be a super-express lane for customers with just five items or less, a hope that the Co-op could open at 7 am instead of 8 am, and a question about whether it is time for the always-crammed supermarket to cap its membership.

And there was a long discussion about whether the store and its members are biased towards minorities (we are, of course) and what we can do about it (it involves sensitivity training, of course).

This is not to say that talk of an Israel ban won’t come up again.

After all, such a ban would find support in the aisles at the Food Co-op, where plenty of members think Israel’s battle with rocket-launching Gaza militants is evidence that the Jewish state is a violent thug.

There are others who think Israel’s treatment of its Arab population is the equivalent of Apartheid.

And there are others, of course, who think the Co-op is a supermarket that should focus on what it does best: selling low-cost, organic produce to a diverse collection of Brooklynites, from Muslims to orthodox Jews to atheists to vegans.

And for now, at least, that produce includes persimmons from Israel.

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