22 July 2011

Official Statement on Park Slope Food Coop, Israel and the BDS Discussion

Statement by Rabbi Andy Bachman
Senior Rabbi, Congregation Beth Elohim, Brooklyn, NY
On the Park Slope Food Coop Referendum Discussion regarding Israel and BDS

July 22, 2011

As a diverse community in Brooklyn for nearly 150 years, the membership of Congregation Beth Elohim represents a variety of views and opinions about the State of Israel.  In its more than sixty-three years of existence, there has been as diverse an expression of visions for what kind of state and which territorial boundaries Israel ought to represent.  While it’s true that the attempt to create a Jewish nation in the historic homeland of the Jewish people has always faced both acceptance and opposition from the family of nations, Israel’s existence as a modern nation after two thousand years represents a remarkable achievement virtually unprecedented in human history and is therefore an incredible source of pride for Jews and others around the world.  

Israel's contemporary reality, as can be expected, continues to generate excitement and debate. Reflecting these realities each year at CBE, we offer programs, discussion groups, book groups, forums for political activism related to Israel and Palestine, and study trips for youth and adults that are open to and welcome everyone.  Some voices support; some voices criticize.  Nonetheless, to be clear, our community is united in the belief that the State of Israel has the right to exist.  

In light of the upcoming discussion and debate at the Park Slope Food Co-op with regard to considering a referendum on the BDS movement, I wanted to take the opportunity to briefly share why the Clergy and leadership at Congregation Beth Elohim are united in their opposition to this movement.   

A closer look at the BDS movement reveals that the basic assumption of Israel's right to exist is not shared and in fact even a cursory look into BDS rhetoric reveals that the ultimate goal of the majority of its supporters is a dissolution of Israel as a Jewish state.  This is simply untenable and unjust.

The BDS movement singles out Israel as the sole offender in this painful and protracted conflict. Moreover, the BDS movement ignores the broader regional context and glaring human rights abuses in surrounding states that destructively impact the dynamics between Israel and the Palestinians. Finally, the BDS movement ignores the tremendous efforts being made on the ground, on a daily basis, to strengthen the hands of those in Israel and Palestine who daily work for peace.  

As a synagogue in America, Congregation Beth Elohim cherishes the democratic process afforded to us by the U.S. Constitution.  And in that spirit, we welcome the Park Slope Food Coop as a valued community institution to hold its meeting to discuss this painful issue in our Temple House; it is a given that open discussion and debate is essential to the experience of democratic communities expressing their ideas and values.  But in the end, we oppose the idea of a boycott of Israel for three simple reasons.  One, it singles out Israel at the exclusion of an equal accounting of Palestinians and other Arab states for their own abuses and contributions to this conflict.  Two, it is clear to us that the long-term goal of the BDS movement is to delegitimize the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state. And three, a PSFC boycott of Israel will greatly divide the delicate fabric of a community institution with as diverse a membership as any democratic community organization in the United States. 

On a personal note, I write this from Jerusalem where I teach each summer.  My friendships with Israelis and Palestinians are long and deep and I detect this summer in particular an urgency and determination, despite the seeming intractability of the conflict, to find a way forward to peace.  I believe our greatest chance of success is found not in singling out one side or another for blame but in strengthening the hands of those on both sides of the conflict in building relationships of mutuality and cooperation; dialogue and understanding.  From this perspective, the Land continues to inspire great acts of reconciliation and love that, if strengthened through our own help, can bring about a resolution of this issue for Israelis and Palestinians so that both peoples can live in peace.


Anonymous said...

The irony of the debate taking place at CBE where the co-op holds its meetings is too delicious to not comment upon. The co-op community would do well to remember the adage, "Do not bite the hand that feeds you."

For the reasons you've identified and more, Andy, it's a silly boycott proposal and should be rejected.

Ben said...

Thank, you, Andy. Very thoughtful words.

Barat Ellman said...

it should be noted that BDS doesn't distinguish between the occupied areas and Israel proper. There are grounds for boycotting goods produced by settlement communities (which are part of their economic sustenance) as a way of objecting to the occupation of the west bank and golan, but an undifferentiated boycott, as you point out, implies objection to Israel itself and such a statement cannot be accepted.

The Stop BDS Team said...

Thank you Rabbi for your eloquent statement.

There is no decision to be taken on joining BDS at this meeting. It is only a discussion. The initiative comes from members, NOT from the Coop management. However, the Coop's method of governance does not have a way to prevent this discussion from coming to the general meeting. At present, there is no system in place for vetting member initiatives. So please, don't call the Coop to complain.

There is an organized opposition to the BDS effort. As of today, we have 85 supporters. You can join our effort, if you are a PSFC member, by sending an email to morehummus@gmail.com.

You can also follow our blog at stopbdsparkslope.blogspot.com

The BDS initiative was rejected at the following food coops:
Davis Food Coop
Port Townsend Food Coop
People's Food Coop - Ann Arbor
Sacramento Natural Food Coop
Madison Market Natural Food Co-op - Seattle

jhh1822 said...

bravo -- may the co op continue to consider (annually approved/terminated) boycotts of individual companies with significant cause and the will of voting members; may it continue to be a place where residents of Brooklyn of an almost mind-boggling diversity shop and work alongside one another

Anonymous said...

Dear Rabbi Bachman:
Thank you for your blog post.
avishay mazor

DP Greenberg said...

Last fall during my annual trip to Israel to study Hebrew, I read an anecdote about Rabbi Heschel that seems somewhat apt to this discussion. Heschel, who was an anti-war activist during the Vietnam War, was asked how he felt about working along side members of the New Left, some of whom were distinctly anti-Israel. Heschel, characteristically, responded with a story, as follows. The father of a young man who was about to be drafted into the Czar’s army was distraught because the food rations in the army were made from pork. If the son continued to keep kosher in the army, he would starve, but if he ate the rations he’d no longer be observant. What was his son to do, the man asked his rabbi? The rabbi pondered a moment and answered: “he can eat the pork, but he can’t lick his lips.”

Heschel’s point in relating this story was that, while he wasn’t thrilled with the anti-Israel views of some of his fellow activists, the cause of ending the war was more important than sectarian politics. Now, to be clear, I am not comparing the average pro-BDS blowhard from the Park Slope Food Co-op to the New Left, although there is surely some overlap. Despite some of the excesses, many of the New Left were very substantial people committed to a decidedly just and necessary cause. My sense about the “activists” within the Food Co-op is that they many of them need to get a life.

Still, I think there is something to be learned from the Heschel anecdote with respect to the boycott issue, and that is not to allow one’s own views to be defined too much by those you regard as opponents (or just plain jerks). That, however, seems to be the way of most discussions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While, on an emotional level, I’m not a fan of the BDS movement, I’m beginning to think that an effective boycott movement is Israel’s last hope of surviving. Take a look at what’s going on there now. A decidedly right wing coalition is able to push through a law completely at odds with the democratic ideals of Zionism that so many of us supporters of Israel cherish. But even worse, there is no indication that Netanyahu really cares about making peace. If tomorrow, Abu Mazan cried uncle and proclaimed that the Israel is the Jewish state for the all ages, Netanyahu and his fellow believers in the cause of Greater Israel would come up with some new gimmick to continue the occupation.

I truly wish there were another way, but a broad-based boycott, which would be unfair in some or many respects, may be the only thing to get Israel off the mark. We are told by the likes of Bernard Avashai that a boycott is a poison arrow that would hit the wrong target. Thus, an economic boycott that made life and business less comfortable for the creative, prosperous members of the hi-tech Israeli class, would injure a segment of Israeli society that generally supports peace. Well if it become a lot more difficult to do business around the world or the eminent members of the Israeli intelligentsia found themselves embarrassed in various academic settings, perhaps the middle and upper middle class in Israel would be motivated to get more involved politics and become part of a strong coalition for peace that Israel desperately needs.

In his blog, Rabbi Bachman often makes the very valid point that the two sides in the conflict need to come to their senses and get a peace deal done once and for all. We, the pro-peace supporters of Israel, however, don’t have any meaningful influence over what the Palestinians do. We can only try to affect what our side does. Today, I feel only shame about the kind of society Israel is becoming, especially regarding the occupation. Honestly, if I had the courage of my convictions (and I don’t) I would do what my parents did for many years during Franco’s long domination of Spain and not go back until the occupation ends.

Anonymous said...

I will be boycotting the co-op. I can get my artisinal cheeses somewhere else from now on!

ruth said...

what is the occupation exactly?
we are attacked by surrounding arab countries seeking our destruction.
they loose,
we gain territory through our victory thank Gd,
and now we are the occupiers??

Anonymous said...

We are new to the area, to the CBE community and were originally considering joining the PSFC. Their illogical political stance, however, and proposal to boycott Israeli products is truly sad and as such, we cannot even conceve of joining such a coop. I only wish CBE would separate themselves from PSFC which clearly has no respect for CBE's members, many of whom are offended by and personally affronted by this proposed boycott.

We applaud Rabbi Bachman's statement. We encourage the members of PSFC to educate themselves as to the realities of the situation in Israel, to the nature of the food makers that they wish to undermine, and to the effect that their choices have on the world. A woman making hummus in Israel-- disupted territory or mainland-- is not responsible for the ills of the world, for the rockets being shot at her from the borders, or for the result of the wars of the past.

Mrs. K said...

Bravo Rabbi Andy! Well said & well done! I have nothing to add (gasp, for a change)!

Alan Salzberg said...

To Anonymous that now doesn't want to join the food coop: The food coop's discussion of this topic has nothing to do with the coop supporting (or not) a boycott. You can pretty much get any issue discussed just by going through the proper procedure. It doesn't mean the coop will eventually vote to support the issue or even do anything more than just discuss it.

Alan Salzberg said...

Dear Anonymous who is new to the area: the fact that this item is being discussed just means someone went through the coop procedure to get it discussed. It doesn't mean the majority of members support the issue, and it does't mean there will be a vote on it. Thus, it shouldn't scare you away from joining.

Susan Tauber said...

Yasher ko'ach, Rabbi Bachman! Well and sensitively written! To anyone considering joining the Park Slope Food Coop, don't be put off by a discussion at a General Meeting. No decision was taken. If you oppose BDS' ideas, by all means join, so that if a proposal is made to join the boycott, the General Mtg. gets to vote on whether or not to approve the referendum on it. Be there to help prevent any referendum going forward. The coop is a great place.

Ajlounyinjurylaw said...

Two cultures that are so much alike, it's no wonder that you have deep relationships with both.