Leeds push to block Co-op boycotters

Activists in the Leeds Jewish community are spearheading a campaign to fight off a national boycott of Israeli goods by the Co-operative Group.

This week the Leeds Lobby Network urged its 120 members to take action over two boycott motions passed in recent weeks by members at Co-op meetings in Leeds and Newcastle. The motions will now go before its North regional board in June. They can then be carried to national executives who will decide whether to accept a boycott.

The motions called for the complete suspension of trade with Israeli companies Carmel Agrexco, Arava and any other businesses which it claimed were "actively involved in the agricultural colonisation of the Occupied West Bank". The North is the group's largest trading region with £1.3 billion sales annually.

But the JC has learned that the motions are part of a nationally co-ordinated strategy by Palestine Solidarity Campaign activists, to use Co-op membership in order to force a company-wide boycott through the Co-op's seven regional constituencies.

PSC activists have paid the Co-op £1 to join

Any member of the public can join the Co-op by paying a £1 fee and can then vote on motions and company policy. Despite there currently being six million Co-op members nationwide, the Newcastle motion has sparked a possible boycott with just 68 people in favour because the meeting's turnout was so small.

PSC websites, email groups and Facebook pages have called on activists to become members and attend other regional meetings in Glasgow, Bristol and Belfast. Forthcoming regional meetings in Liverpool and Rochdale may also be targeted. The campaign will also focus on the Co-op's national AGM in Manchester on Saturday to push a UK-wide boycott agenda.

But the Leeds Lobby Network, formed by Jewish community members two months ago after Israeli ambassador Ron Prosor visited the city, said the situation was of grave concern.

"If we don't fight this, there is no reason that this well-organised group won't move on to other companies and organisations. The Co-op is owned by the people for the people. Those people include many who support Israel, and are horrified at this proposed action," a spokesperson said.

LLN said it was urging people to write to the Co-op regional board explaining the detrimental effect of boycott on the company, one of the criteria for executives rejecting members' motions.

A Co-op spokesperson said: "Under existing policy, the Co-operative trades with Israel, but we do not source from the settlements in the West Bank, where there is broad international consensus that the settlements are illegal.

"None of our own-brand suppliers, including Carmel Agrexco, source any products for the Co-op from the illegal settlements. The policy does not support the call for a boycott of Israel or Israeli goods as none of the conditions for the cessation of trade are triggered."

Last updated: 4:48pm, May 19 2011