Olympia, Washington Food Co-op removes Israeli goods from shelves; first US store to institute boycott

[Internationalist solidarity is more than a phrase, a statement, or a single act.  It is a lifelong orientation to affirm our common humanity, a determination to end the oppressive and dehumanizing conditions that arise from imperialist power relations, and to bring an end to the system of imperialism, along with all the damage it has done.  It is a commitment to build a productive and creative world where the contributions of all are valued.  The motivations, visions, and politics of internationalists are forged in response to specific struggles against oppression.  While the particularities of these struggles generate a wide range of views among internationalists–often contradictory and sharply contested–the heartfelt assertion toward a common humanity is the basis of our unity and our struggle.

The Olympia Food Co-op boycott of Israeli goods is one step in a solidarity that has grown through the work of grassroots activists over many years.  Olympia is the home town of Rachel Corrie, the International Solidarity Movement activist who was killed by an Israeli militarized Caterpillar bulldozer that was destroying a Palestinian home.    (See: http://rachelcorriefoundation.org/).  Others, outraged at this horror, took up the challenge.  An Olympia Rafah (Palestine) Sister City Project was formed (http://www.orscp.org/), and sister city relations were established. The Olympia Rafah  Solidarity Mural Project (http://olympiarafahmural.org/) was planned, organized and created, as artists brought their vision and skills to join the grassroots solidarity movement.  (http://www.breakthesilencearts.typepad.com/).  The Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (http://bdsmovement.net/?q=node/755) was adopted by activists in Olympia who wanted to give material teeth to the struggle for solidarity, and the Olympia BDS committee (http://www.olympiabds.org/) was organized with ongoing educational efforts with film, speakers, and community discussions.  The struggle to launch a boycott of Israeli goods at the local Food Co-op was built, even as other BDS efforts in the area were taken up by students at Evergreen College. (http://www.olympiabds.org/2010/students-at-the-evergreen-state-college-vote-to-divest-from-israel.html).

Each step in this process has been attacked by the opponents of such internationalist solidarity–most prominantly by Zionist defenders of the siege of Gaza, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine by Israel, and the Israeli killings of humanitarian aid activists. The struggle of internationalist solidarity activists in Olympia has yielded much experience, and the tools may be useful or adaptable for grassroots internationalists in other locales as well.-ed.]

July 19, 2010

Olympia, WA

The Olympia Food Co-op Board of Directors has decided to boycott Israeli goods at their two locations in Olympia, Washington. At a July 15th meeting packed with Co-op members, the Board reached this consensus. The Co-op becomes the first US grocery store to publicly join the international grassroots movement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) on Israel for its human rights abuses.Co-op board member Rob Richards explained, “My hope is that by being the first in the US to adopt the boycott we act as a catalyst for other co-ops to join in. Each additional organizational entity that joins may have a very small effect on the big picture, but drop by drop fills the tub.”

Noah Sochet, a Co-op member and OlympiaBDS organizer adds, “As a US citizen and as a Jew, I’m proud to say that my Co-op no longer underwrites the suffering in Palestine.”

In accordance with its mission statement, the Olympia Food Co-op has a longstanding boycott policy, which includes a boycott of China (for its occupation of Tibet) and a previous boycott of Colorado (for legalizing discrimination against gays, lesbians, and bisexuals in 1992). The Co-op also has policies for rejecting items whose packaging feature exploitive or oppressive imagery.

One Israeli product is exempt from the boycott: “Peace Oil,” a brand of olive oil fairly traded from Palestinian farmers in the West Bank and the Galilee, will continue to be carried by the Co-op.

Olympia Rafah Solidarity Mural Project, Olympia WA

The boycott follows on the heels of a similarly historic event at the nearby Evergreen State College. On June 2, students at the Olympia-based college voted overwhelmingly to approve two resolutions calling on the college’s foundation to divest from companies profiting from the Israeli occupation of Palestine, as well as calling on the college to ban the use of Caterpillar equipment due to Caterpillar’s complicity in Israeli war crimes. The college is the alma mater of Rachel Corrie, who was killed by a weaponized Caterpillar bulldozer in the Gaza Strip in 2003.

News of the boycott has drawn praise from around the world, including in Israel. “I salute the great work of the people in Olympia,” said Yonatan Shapira, an Israeli Air Force captain and co-founder of Combatants for Peace. “The decision taken by the Olympia Food Co-op is an important step toward just peace for all people living in Israel/Palestine. It is also a step toward accountability for Israel’s murder of Rachel Corrie.”

The BDS movement began in 2005 when over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations in Israel and in Palestine issued a call for the nonviolent tactic of BDS on Israel until the country abides by international law and human rights standards. The BDS call has become an international movement, endorsed by renowned figures such as Desmond Tutu, Naomi Klein, and Alice Walker. The Co-op boycott comes two months after Italy’s largest supermarket chains, COOP and Nordiconad, declared a boycott of products exported by Israeli Carmel Agrexco.

Israel has responded to the BDS movement by arresting prominent Palestinian endorsers. The Knesset is currently considering legislation to outlaw endorsement of BDS by Israelis.

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