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Food Fight: Brooklyn Co-op Mulls Israel Ban

Located in the heart of Brooklyn, near Prospect Park, the Park Slope Food Coop is at the nexus of the borough’s many diverse Jewish populations. From the liberal Jews of Park Slope to the Hasidic Jews of Crown Heights, the coop is one of the few places in Brooklyn where Jews of all denominations converge in a shared mission: to buy natural foods at reasonable prices.

But the co-op’s unusual Jewish character is being tested by a proposal to ban products bought from Israel, such as the persimmons and red peppers that are currently in the produce aisle.

Since Israel’s Gaza operation, there has been a rash of campaigns around the world to divest from Israel and to boycott the Jewish state. At Hampshire College this month, a spat ensued when a pro-Palestinian student group erroneously announced that the school was the first American college to divest from Israel. Israeli tennis star Shahar Pe’er was denied a visa to play at a major tournament in Dubai, and Britain has experienced ongoing efforts to boycott Israeli academic institutions.

The proposal at the co-op is not likely to be economically meaningful; perhaps a few shipments of vegetables are at stake. But the debate is taking place in a rare hotbed of diverse Jewish life.

“There are so many Jews who shop there, there are so many Israelis who shop there, there’s a huge number of frum people from all over Brooklyn who shop there,” said Rabbi Andy Bachman of Brooklyn’s largest and most active reform congregation, Beth Elohim, “so my guess is that if it passes, and I want to emphasize that I don’t think it will, they will lose a lot of members.”

Bachman’s congregation is known as a hub for Brooklyn’s progressive Jews, and it has served as a home for the co-op’s monthly meetings, including the one at which the boycott proposal was first raised.

Fruits of conflict: A proposal to boycott Israeli
products at Brooklyn’s Park Slope Food Coop has
outraged Jewish members.

Bachman said he received several e-mails on the subject, a few of which came from congregants asking if the synagogue was taking any action. Bachman said that his only plan is to attend the meeting when the ban is discussed, and place his name on a list of people who would like to speak. He said that if the ban does pass, it is likely that the synagogue will ask the co-op to find a different space to rent for its general meetings.

“It will remain an irrelevant gesture to 5 million Israelis and 2 million Palestinians, but it will make someone in Park Slope feel really good about themselves,” he said. That’s what this is about; it’s about the political purity, which is part of Park Slope’s unique self-absorption.”

Bachman does not, though, speak for all Brooklyn Jews, despite having founded an organization with that name. Carol Wald, a Jewish co-op member living in the area, was one of two people to send letters to the co-op’s home-grown newspaper, the Linewaiters’ Gazette, encouraging the boycott discussion.

“All points of view really need to be heard,” she said. “If we start proposing things like boycotts, it’ll prompt more discussion, and that’ll help educate people.”

Since it was founded in 1973, the co-op has grown into a neighborhood institution with a membership of nearly 15,000. All members are required to work monthly shifts. According to Allen Zimmerman, general coordinator and produce buyer at the co-op, that philosophy attracts people from all walks of life.

“A lot of people are here for the tofu, but a lot of people are here for the beef and pork,” he said.

On the Jewish side, the co-op has its own kosher committee, which vets purchases of kosher meat and other products.

The push for an Israel boycott adds to the co-op’s long history of political action. Nestlé products were voted out by the membership, because of the company’s campaign to promote infant formula instead of breastfeeding, and members rallied around a ban of South African goods during the apartheid regime.

The proposal to boycott Israeli goods was first raised by a woman who gives her name as Hima B., a co-op member of South Asian decent, during the “open forum” at the general meeting in January. She faced no vocal opposition, according to people who were there, and was told to create an agenda item for a general meeting in the future.

“She spoke for less than 60 seconds, and nobody questioned it,” said Zimmerman, who was in attendance that night, along with an estimated 275 others.

Hima said she has since recruited 10 other members and hopes to put the issue on the agenda for an upcoming general meeting.

“There have been other attempts in the past to call for a boycott of Israeli goods. I don’t think it went anywhere,” she said. A member for nearly five years, Hima was motivated to take action after learning more about the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. “Economic sanctions worked in South Africa. Why shouldn’t we ask for an end to practices that are violating human rights?” she said.

Though many members are unaware of the proposal — only the most active go to the general meeting, or read the Linewaiters’ Gazette — Jewish groups and synagogues have been sending e-mails and making phone calls.

Many believe that such a boycott could never pass, given the co-op’s diversity.

Michael Barrish, a 48-year-old Web developer who was shopping on February 17, said the ban is absurd. He believes it would be shouted down by Jews who support Israel, and laughed at by those who find a ban of this nature preposterous. But, Barrish said, “I like being a member of a place in which you can propose what you believe.”


  • 1. simcha wrote:

    no one will do anything about this….imagine if this happened with Red Stripe…

  • 3. 38 yrs in the hood wrote:

    Park Slope Food Coop
    782 Union Street
    (between 6th and 7th Avenues in Park Slope)
    Brooklyn, New York 11215

    (718) 622-0560
    make calls and tell them how u feel , i did

  • 4. ex-Park Slope wrote:

    To Jckie (if that’s your real name :)

    Did you even bother to read this article? Nothing has been decided and the issue will be a non event. Maybe you should think before you get so hot under the collar.

  • 5. Allen Zimmerman wrote:

    I am one of the management team of Park Slope Food Coop. 2 members have written letters and one has expressed the desire to make a proposal, but has not yet done so. There are 15,000 members. We have 15,000 opinions and we have not even discussed anything yet.

  • 6. gitty gold wrote:

    the nerve! the temerity!! taking advantage of their constitutional rights to discriminate against Israel ONLY!!!!! lets now discriminate against arab products so freely available in this area!! Then you will hear a hue and cry!! they’ll be up in arms, marching in the streets etc. this is not a cute opportunity tostate your political position, it is out and out anti-semitiism, and whoever gently shakes their head at this needs to bone up on European history, circa 1938,1939, etc. please protest this injustice….

  • 7. SHEMITA wrote:

    just a little note, when buying fruits and vegetables from Israel, I think you need to take maaser, and make sure it is not fruit from shemita year….ask you LOR

    It may be halachicly problematic to buy fruits and vegetables from Israel without a hechsher, so maybe this is a good thing.

  • 8. Silver Lining wrote:

    Not selling Israeli fruit or veggies avoids issues of halacha that most buyers easily overlook – ma’asser. truma, shmita, orla etc. So…maybe it’s not such a bad idea not to sell this produce, PROVIDED they carry MORE Israeli products that don’t carry such concerns.

    Personally, when I buy produce in a supermarket, I boycott Israeli produce to avoid these issues!! When I visit Israel, I try to buy produce grown in areas that are chutz l’aretz.

  • 9. Angry at The Coop wrote:

    I am unfortunately a Park Slope Food Coop member and I am appauled by any response defending the coop. The fact that the LineWaiters Gazette would publish this shows what they think of Jews and Israel. The fact that the board would have the gaul to not even blink when this was brought up is so disgusting it makes me uncomfotable to even walk in the “diverse doors” of the coop. If it were not for my wife I would be long gone from the coop.

    Imagine if I were to send in a letter saying to boycott farms with black people working on them because of the Crown Heights Riots, etc. Imagine if I were to say we should boycott San Fransisco areas farms because of liberal laws to gay marraiage, gender changing operations propositions, etc. The article would not even get into the paper, because the editor knows it would cause suck an uproar and maybe offend some people.

    The editor of LinWaiters Gazette is obviously someone who doesnt know their history and the fact that he/she published this shows what an anti semitic idiot they are and proves how unprofessional and unreliable of an organization the coop is.

    Also, I have been treated less than nicely by some of the liberal Jewish Kerry and Obama loving guys and girls at the coop. My squad leader, a fried out Jew from the Lower East Side went out of his way to make little orthodox Jokes when I was working the shift. There have been other incidents where I feel I was singled out as a frum Jew, but I can write that later. And G-D forbid you dont vote Democrat at the place or think Obama is a good candidate…..

    15,000 people, 15,000 opinions…ANTI SEMITISM is a big one at the place.. CH Lubavitchers…open your eyes to the truth about the place

  • 10. Man or mouse? wrote:

    To angry at the Coop (co op??)

    Get some backbone! Be a man! Tell your wife no more! Support OUR stores here in CH.

  • 11. Daniel Alter wrote:

    What is relevant is: In what other cases has the co-op proposed banning a nation’s products? Does it protest Chinese policies? Does the co-op denounce America’s policies in Afghanistan where many are killed in the battle against the Taliban? Did the co-op raise its voice once over indiscriminate rockets from Gaza? Did the co-op ever protest suicide bombing of civilians in Israel or anywhere else? What specific policy of Israel does Carol Wald wish to change: self defense? Does the co-op find it difficult to carry any products from Lebanon, or Syria, or Iran — all states that support Hezbollah, an internationally recognized terrorist organization, or just Israel? Since selling Egyptian cotton is apparently OK at the co-op that nation must not have any pimples in regards human rights? Singling out one nation — Israel — is not OK.


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