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Harvest Co-op and the boycott of Sabra and Tribe

This blog describes the experience of activists to stop the Harvest co-op from selling products that support Israeli apartheid.

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 bostonhummuscampaign@gmail.com

Boston BDS | Boston Coalition for Palestinian Rightsbcprights.org/hummus

http://www.phillybds.org/

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

C Lively November 03, 2012 at 11:12 AM
I respectfully offer the following comments: - The Harvest Board followed our bylaws and worked with this group through the referendum request process, balancing this issue with many other issues that the Board must consider to keep our small co-operative grocery stores open. Details on the steps we followed can be found here: http://www.harvest.coop/Referendum_Update.pdf. Further details may be found here: http://www.harvest.coop/Septembermeetingresponsefromboard.pdf - Harvest Co-op's mission states: "We strive to build a democratic and welcoming community that celebrates the diversity of our members." The Board recognizes that our co-op members and shoppers may have different views on many products. Harvest prefers to educate rather than boycott, recognizing that individuals may simply choose not to purchase a product. Details on how referenda can occur when necessary are in the links listed above. - Harvest Co-op recognizes that we cannot understand all political and social implications for all products. We instead try to focus on our strengths: we support local producers and farmers and offer Boston area residents a cooperative, locally owned place to purchase food. We believe people can hold different views and still live together in a democratic environment, and we will continue to work to support cooperative principles, strengthen local food systems, and to create a Harvest community where all are welcome.
Jon Haber November 06, 2012 at 01:58 AM
And all of the boycotts that Ms. Roffman lists, like their attempted boycott at the Harvest, have failed because the organizations that have been asked to boycott (all of them progressive institutions like the Harvest) understand that they are being asked to participate in a propaganda program they do not agree with, at the expense of the membership of the organizations which would be appauled to have Roffman and her like minded colleagues attempting to speak in their name. When those proposing these boycott and divestment actions are standing alongside the leadership of the Harvest (or anywhere else) jointly announcing success of this or that boycott action, then we can say they have finally had some success convincing others of their Israel = Apartheid propganda message. Until then, their record stands at zero to infinity.
Bob from JP November 06, 2012 at 04:00 AM
Of all the things that someone can protest at this point, this group chooses Hummus? Just goes to show how out of touch some people truly are......

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