Port Townsend's Food Co-op split by proposal to boycott Israeli products

By Jeff Chew
Peninsula Daily News

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By Jeff Chew

Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND -- A proposed boycott of Israeli food products sold at The Food Co-op in Port Townsend has divided some of the popular organic food store's members.

A decision to boycott -- or not to boycott -- is expected to come down to a Sept. 21 special co-op board meeting, at which member comments will be heard.

A group in July petitioned the co-op board, contending that Israel's political policies ignore Palestinian human rights and Israel must be sent a message.

"The goals of the boycott are to draw attention to the Palestinian-Israeli situation and specifically to educate people about U.S. complicity with it," the petition states.

"It is a step taken in response to 62 years of race-based oppression in Palestine and 43 years of occupation of all Palestinian land and nearly four years of siege on Gaza, all of which have left Palestinian Christians, Muslims and nondenominational persons in dire straits."

Opponents of the boycott argue the Food Co-op is no place for politics, and if Israel is the target of a boycott, China should be too.

Boycott supporters

The boycott support group includes Quilcene peace activist Kit Kittredge Siemion, who is now on her fifth humanitarian trip to Gaza; Port Townsend peace activists Liz Rivera Goldstein, G. Daniel Bugel-Shunra and Dena Shunra; Liz Rivera's husband and co-op board secretary Dan Goldstein and Karma Tenzing Wangchuck. The group asked for a boycott of "all Israeli products due to the social, political and environmental practices of the Israeli government."

Having heard Israel is a major buyer of U.S. military weaponry, Rivera Goldstein said, "This is a way to give a message to our government that this is what we should not be supporting. Human rights violations are not what we should be supporting."

Other co-op members, such as Leah Hammer and Rima Phillips, called the boycott absurd.

"I think it is totally irrational that the co-op would get involved in something like this because they are taking a political stand.

"Outside [the co-op], it's their American right, freedom of speech," Hammer said.

"When you try to take it inside the co-op and muscle it through, I have a problem with that."

China question

Citing China as a major human rights violator, Hammer and Phillips said they questioned why that country has not been brought into the boycott.

Phillips sent a letter to the co-op board Monday calling for a boycott on Chinese products and plastic bags.

Hammer said she would no longer shop at the co-op if the Israeli food products boycott is approved.

Daniel and Dena Bugel-Shunra, who have lived in Israel and originally initiated the boycott proposal, called the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the siege of the Gaza Strip horrific.

"Their entire military is finance by our tax money," Daniel Bugel-Shunra said, referring to U.S. weapons sent "to oppress economic rehabilitation in Palestine."

"Things have gotten considerably worse, even in the past half-year. Israel is a government that is very intolerant of the Palestinians because they just won't go away."

Dena Bugel-Shunra said arguments that the group's boycott proposal was anti-Semitic were unfounded because rabbis and Israelis also support the boycott.

"I cannot believe that it is a Jewish value to oppress Palestinians," she said.

Rivera Goldstein said it was the Israeli attack in May on a humanitarian flotilla that was the final straw that led to the call for a boycott.

More than 10 people were killed after Israeli naval commandos boarded six aid ships in a convoy heading towards the Gaza Strip

The fleet was carrying aid to the area under a naval blockade.

"We just feel that Israel has crossed a line and that the Israelis and Palestinians need peace," Rivera Goldstein said.

She said that she fears the co-op board will be approached by boycott opponents at its next meeting Sept. 7, which is intended to discuss the hiring of a new co-op manager.

Deb Shortess, interim co-op manager, said the co-op's policy gives the board 60 days to make a decision.

The board meets at the annex building on Washington Street in Port Townsend.

Shortess said the boycott would affect fewer than 10 Israeli products, including bath salt from the Dead Sea.

The economic impact in a year would be about $5,000, she said.

"Many of those products could be replaced," she said.

Shortess said she could not predict what impact the boycott might have on members shopping there.

The co-op, founded in the 1970s, today has more than 5,000 member-owners and plans to expand.

"I think that what's important is right now it's just a proposal," Shortess said.

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Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Jeff Chew can be reached at 360-681-2391 or at jeff.chew@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: August 16. 2010 11:52PM
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