It’s all at the Co-op … unless it’s truth about Israel you’re after ...

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 ......

Editors' Notes:

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.




Wed, 10/24/2012 - 10:35

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1 point

The Fake Zionist again pretends he is some kind of lawyer. The ICJ have not made any such ruling they have issued an advisory which is binding on no one especially as it was given after a hearing dealing with the another point entirely at which one of the parties, Israel was not even present or heard. Furthermore was presided over by among others an Egyptian Judge who would in any proceedings in the UK for example would have had to recluse himself as being conflicted.
Secondly, until a definitive legal ruling is given the nations of the World can have as many opinions as they like. Consensus in this case is political not legal - so absurd is it that Arabs could if they wanted to pass a resolution in the General Assembly that night is day and day is night and Libya was still being considered for a place on the UNHRC whilst Ghadaffi was butchering his people on the streets of Tripoli not to mention Syria - i.e. it proves nothing and means nothing!

Real Real Zionist

Wed, 10/24/2012 - 11:17

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-1 points

Thanks for that you make a couple of fair points so I have amended my bit to reflect them. I don't think it either helpful or necessary to rely heavily on the ICJ advisory. It is worth mentioning but not for making a meal of.

Real Real Zionist

Wed, 10/24/2012 - 11:17

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-1 points

Not much of a members backlash….........true to melodramatic drama queen form. Further it is almost certain that the “ backlash “ does not consist of typical ingenue Co-op members but rather people who have joined for the simple and sole purpose of opposing the organisations position on the points under discussion here. Nothing wrong with that but it is worth bearing it in mind.

Granted the man from the Coop was pretty awful. Here is what he should have said.

There are two separate questions.

Firstly, that of the legality of the settlements.The ICJ in the context of advising that the route of the separation barrier was illegal,advised that the colonisation of the land was illegal.So we don't have a definitive binding ruling. What we do have, however, is a massive overwhelming consensus of opinion among the nations of the world that the settlements are illegal. This consensus includes the US despite the fact that it can’t bring itself to utter the word. The present administration calls them “ illigitimate” So the finest legal minds employed by the foreign offices of the nations of the world advise that the settlements are illegal This includes our own Foreign Office and the government generally. As a prominent British institution we are happy to take the advice of Her Majesty’s Government on the point.

“ The occupying power shall not deport or otherwise transfer parts of its civilian population into the occupied territory.”

“ The Occupied Palestinian Territories “ The British Foreign Office

“ Britain’s position won’t change. Settlements beyond the Green Line are illegal.” David Cameron at the recent UJIA dinner.

An entirely separate, though related, question, is the legality of trading with Israeli companies to the extent that they are operating in and/or from the territories. We have no view on this question. However, since they operate in the territories at the point of tank cannons and as part of an exercise in State sponsored colonisation, we cannot, in all conscience, feel that we want to do business with them. It is our democratic right to take such a view. Other persons and organisations similarly have the right to adopt a contrary position.


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