By Jonathan Hoffman
October 23, 2012
Issued by MOCABI (Members of Co-Op Against Boycott of Israel)
Co-op faces local members’ backlash against boycott of Israeli companies at Brighton meeting
It’s all at the Co-op … unless it’s truth about Israel you’re after …
The Co-operative Sussex Area members’ meeting held at the Brighthelm Centre, Brighton on Thursday 18 October descended into farce when Len Wardle, Chairman of the Board of Co-operative Group Ltd, fielded questions from local Co-op members unhappy about the Co-op’s boycott of four Israeli companies.
The meeting didn't start well for the Co-op hierarchy, with two questions on the topical subject of trade with Israel inadvertently omitted from the minutes of the previous meeting, held in Hove last year.
When the meeting was opened to the audience to ask questions, the topic of the organisation's trade with Israel was again raised. One member of the audience questioned the reasons for the trade embargo – the producers in question employ both Palestinian and Israeli workers and the arbitrary trade embargo has damaged employment opportunities for Palestinian workers.
But rather than answering the question, Mr Wardle, from Worthing, chose to read from a prepared statement, referring to the supply chain and the Co-op's view that trade with these companies was in contravention of international law, which is contradicted by the fact that the UK Government does not ban trade with the companies concerned. A second question was aimed at the validity of the Co-op embargo and the organisation’s decision to blindly follow the UN’s criticism of Israel, when that organisation’s Human Rights policies are dominated by countries that lack democracy, that are not free and that routinely violate human rights themselves.
Opting not to answer any further questions on the subject, and clearly agitated by the questions already posed, Mr Wardle tried to draw a line by explaining that the Co-op's position was clearly defined in a set of questions and answers which would be made available after the meeting. The questions and answers were duly circulated the following day.
They revealed that the Co-op’s partial boycott of Israeli produce relied heavily on the 2004 verdict of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Israel’s Security Fence. That verdict included an assertion that the settlements in Judea and Samaria are illegal. However (a) it was an advisory opinion only – it was not legally binding (the ICJ is a creature of the United Nations) (b) the UN General Assembly’s reference to the court condemned Israel in advance (c) the ICJ judges included appointees of several dictatorships or near-dictatorships, namely China, Madagascar, Sierra Leone, Russia, Venezuela, Jordan, and Egypt (c) the court did not hear Israel’s case (d) the court invented a new rule of law applicable only to Israel, namely that she has no right of self-defence against terrorists (e) the court is a political tribunal and not a proper court of law.
But incredibly – despite the prominence of the ICJ’s Judgment in the Co-op’s Q+A sheet - at the North London Area meeting of Co-op members on 20 October, Mr Wardle denied all knowledge of the International Court of Justice, in response to another question about the Co-op’s Israel policy.
Then when it was pointed out to him that there was no consensus over whether the settlements are illegal – eg the United States does not think this so – a visibly agitated Len Wardle argued that the US's view is worthless because the US ‘occupies’ Guantanamo Bay! (The truth is that the Guantanamo Bay site is leased by the US from Cuba in a commercial arrangement).
Cooperative member and Brighton resident Daniel Matthews said: “The Co-op’s boycott is out-of–step with the opinions of many of its members here in Brighton. A number of us attended the Area Meeting and let the leading figures in the Co-op know that we are opposed to any boycott of Israeli companies.
“It was obvious from the weak answers to our questions that the boycott is ill-thought-through and founded on ignorance about the complexities of the Middle East conflict”.
If it’s truth about Israel you’re after, shop somewhere else ......
After a decade of pressure from anti-Israel BDS (Boycott, Divestment and
Sanctions) activists, the Co-op Group Board decided in May 2012 that, going forward, they would no longer engage with any supplier of produce known to be sourcing from the Israeli settlements in the West Bank. This means boycotting all the produce from those companies, wherever it comes from. The decision by Co-op has had an impact on four suppliers, and circa £350,000 of trade. The four affected suppliers are Agrexco, Arava Export Growers, AdaFresh and Mehadrin.