A number of friens in the UK attended a meeting of the Co-op organisation who have adopted a policy of boycotting Israeli products produced in Judea and Samaria.
Following is their report which shows what a small number of people can achieve in such a hostile environment.
When the next motion was due to be put, the chairman read out a lengthy statement from the national Board reiterated the Co-op's policy of not sourcing anything from the illegal occupied territories. Cleverly in my view the motion had Morocco tagged on to Israel for boycott, a cynical move in my view designed to stop being able to claim it was a policy aimed only at Israel.
He said as the motion had been withdrawn he would not allow any debate but that one woman has said she wanted to make a statement. It turned out to be a known local Palextinian Solidarity Committee (PSC) person who congratulated the Co-op and said how delighted she was that their ethical stand against a country with such a bad human rights record was being boycotted
The chairman however had claimed in his opening remarks, and I believed it was reinfoced in the statement that it is not a "boycott of Israel" and the Co-op does business with around 20 Israel companies.
After the first woman another PSC supporter spoke up. It was clear the chairman wanted to close the issue but I jumped up with a point of information (which it wasn;t really but nor was it a legitimate point of order) and demanded the right to put the other point of view as he had allowed two speakers to welcome the policy. I said I could not understand why the Co-op was adopting such a selective policy when there were countries like China, Turkey Syria and Libya who were not subject to this treatment
I also rammed home how it would only be the Palestinians who work agriculture in the territories who would suffer from this policy I also said I wanted to challenge the term Illegal agricultural exploitation as it was neither illegal nor exploitation At that point the chairman insisted I was actually debating the motion which he repeated he would not allow. I said I would respect the chair but just wanted to remind people that this boycotting of Agrexco and other companies would mean the loss of Palestinian jobs and I wanted everyone to think about being responsible for that
AT that point Raymond Solomon sttood up and said he was determined to have his say. Teh Chairman tried to resist this but Raymond would not be silenced and was able to ask the question as to why the Co-op was operating a boycott when even the Palestinian Authority Government did not support this.
Most of the people in the room looked as they didn't have the slightest clue waht was going on!!!
However one or two people did come over and say they were pleased we had spoken up, I was able to distribute quite a few Boycotts damage the Palestinians fliers I had prepared and also gave out some SWU booklets to a lot of the key committee people Raymond and I also used comment cards a helpful committee member provided for us, and we made a lot of the points we would have made if proper debate had been allowed and they will be submitted for answers
The experience reinforced the importance of being at these meetings to counter the PSC line and to ensure fair and balanced coverage of the issue
I advise as many people as possibe to sign up for Co-op membership so we can be better prepared and organised in the future and perhaps present our own motions for debate. I think we need a concerted campign to gun down the Co-op boycott policy by drawing their attention to the selective and discriminatory policy they have in place and to point out with detailed examples how selective they are being. If they hide behind the"ethical" label we need to draw their attention to countries where women have no rights, where gays and lesbians are under threat of being killed, where Christians and Jews are not welcome or are harrassed and downtrodden etc etc.
I took time at the end of the meeting to talk to the chairman (who apologised for cutting me short but said it was only right I could have a say!!) the regional chairman and the regional secretary, and reinforced my arguments. I asked them how many of their pharmaceutical products are of Israeli origin and I also spoke with the Regional Secretary to ask if senior representatives of the Co-op would be willing to go to Israel to see the reality for themselves
He promised to take that forward to Head Office
Although not entirely satisfactory, I still felt it was a job well done and much needed. I am hoping to have people at two other local meetings at least and I am stressing to them not to allow themselves to be silenced, to remain calm and polite, but to refuse to give way
One thing is for sure we took the PSC people and the committee entirely by surprise and I cannot stress how important it is to have presence at meetings like this and to not be afraid to demand to be heard