In December of 2010, the Boston Hummus Campaign decided to approach the Harvest Co-op, a local food cooperative with two locations in Cambridge and JP, about de-shelving Sabra and Tribe hummus.
Sabra Hummus is a joint venture company of Pepsi and the Strauss Group. Strauss is the second largest Israeli food and beverage company and is well known for its vigorous support of the Israeli Defense Forces Golani Brigade, which has a history of severe human rights abuses against Palestinian and Lebanese people.
Tribe Mediterranean Food products is a Massachusetts-based company that is owned by the Osem Group, the largest exporter of Israeli food products to the US. Osem is a key supporter and partner of the Jewish National Fund (JNF), an organization that controls 93% of the land within Israel and its illegal settlements, land that by law only Jews can rent or work.
The Boston Hummus Campaign initiated this action in response to the call from Palestinian civil society for international boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law. We chose Harvest as the target for our campaign for three reasons: 1) because the co-op has a socially conscious mission (they claim, for instance, to be concerned about issues of food insecurity and environmental justice) and a politicized shopping base; 2) the co-op has a history of supporting and participating in international boycott campaigns—not only did the co-op participate in the 1980s grape boycott, but in its early years, it posted information on all of the products that it carried that were associated with an international boycott, so that co-op shoppers could make educated consumer decision; and 3) the co-op has a clear structure in place through which members and shoppers can work to make the organization respond to their concerns.
After drafting a letter to the Harvest board outlining Sabra and Tribe’s participation in Israeli human rights abuses of Palestinians we circulated the letter among Boston organizations concerned with the struggle for Palestinian human rights. After broad-based coalition signed on to the letter, we sent the letter to the board, and then presented our case to the board in person in late February of 2011. At the meeting, we made the following demands: 1) That the board de-shelve the products; 2) that failing to de-shelve the products, the board hold a referendum so that members could vote on whether the products should remain in the store; 3) that the board post information informing customers about the international boycott next to the products in the store, as well as on store bulletin boards and in the member newsletter.
After a month of consideration, the board refused to de-shelve the products, but explained to us the provisions in the by-laws for initiating a referendum. In order to hold a referendum, we need to collect signatures and member numbers from 10% of active Harvest members (which translates into around 400 signatures). Once we collect the requisite number of signatures, the board will work to verify the signatures, and put the matter to a vote. According to the co-op by-laws, in order for a referendum to be approved, 60% of the membership must vote on the measure; also, if 10% of the membership votes “no,” then the measure cannot pass.
As it turned out we collected over 500 signatures and the Co-op board decided that over 100 of these signatures were not from active members and did not count. They also decided that once a campaign for a referendum is dismissed it can never be revived. We met with with the Co-op board;they decided to hold an open meeting which has not happened. Recently they deshelved these products without either the open meeting or acknowledgement of our campaign. They said that the low volume of sales for these products was the reason for the deshelving.
The members of the Boston Humus group want people to know that we think that the members and other shoppers at the co-op took action to stop the sales of these products because of the call to boycott not because they preferred other brands of humus. We made a difference in that we educated, organized and encouraged shoppers at the co-op to take a stand against Israeli apartheid.Some people may say that Israel is not an apartheid state, but what do you call a state that seperates people based on ethnicity? Even the Israelis recognize it as apartheid; they call the wall that separates Palestinians and Israelis the separation wall. Separation in Afrikaans is Apartheid .
We need to shop with our consciences, and support efforts that will lead to a just peace for Palestinians. There are many other boycotts going on that are too numerous to delve into in depth here. There is an active cultural and educational boycott, a boycott of Veolia, Hewlett Packard, Motorola and Caterpillar. If you are interested in finding out more go to the Boston Coalition for Palestinian rights website noted below.
This blog is in part an adaptation of the Boston Humus campaign literature on the boycott and from the Philidelphia BDS literature as well.
if you are interested in joining us as we move forward in supporting the BDS campaign, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Boston BDS | Boston Coalition for Palestinian Rightsbcprights.org/hummus