Fears of a Co-operative Group Israel boycott

By Jonathan Kalmus, September 6, 2012

Concerns are growing over the possibility of a full-blown Israel boycott by the Co-operative Group, which currently restricts only produce from Israeli settlements in its supermarkets.

On Saturday, at a fringe meeting of the Co-op Party, a separate political entity aligned with the Co-op Group, a senior Co-op Fairtrade official will share a platform with a representative of a UK-based Palestinian company which campaigns for a boycott of Israeli fruit across UK food retailers.

The Co-op’s international development adviser, Hannah Newcomb, is to speak alongside Atif Choudhury, founder of the UK branch of the International Solidarity Movement, which sends activists to disrupt Israeli army activities in the West Bank and Gaza, and supports boycott efforts in the UK. Mr Choudhury will speak about his company, Zaytoun, which exports olive oil labelled “made in Palestine”.

Zaytoun has worked for the past three years with the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign and Friends of Al Aqsa to promote a boycott of Israeli dates.

The Labour MP for Preston, Mark Hendrick, also on the panel, complained in Parliament in June that Israelis were “labelling goods ‘Made in Israel’ when they are in fact produced in the Occupied Territories.”

The event is due to be chaired by another Labour MP, Mark Lazarowicz. Earlier this year Mr Lazarowicz supported the air flotilla, “Welcome to Palestine.” Two years ago he addressed a meeting in Edinburgh dedicated to “end the siege in Gaza”, using a microphone with the placard “Boycott Israel, Sanctions Now” attached to it.

Luke Akehurst of the advocacy group, We Believe in Israel, said the choice of speakers was concerning. He said: “We hope that Mr Choudhury will not be using this as a platform to promote a boycott of Israeli dates or other produce, given that Zaytoun works with BDS supporters on a “check the label” campaign.

“It would be disappointing if genuine and legitimate desire to develop the Palestinian economy through agricultural exports gets conflated with a boycott of comparable Israeli produce.”

But the Co-op Party has insisted that there will be no platform for Israel boycott calls and maintained that the meeting, despite being described on the official agenda as “international development and fairtrade”, would only address fairtrade issues, and would be chaired openly and fairly by Mr Lazarowicz.

A spokesman said: “The Co-operative Party’s foreign policy is only focused on co-operative and mutual development, and accordingly does not have policy on boycotting of any particular countries’ goods.
This approach will not change at the party conference.

“We have a wide range of fringe events; one event will focus on the benefits and proliferation of fairtrade and co-operatives.

Last updated: 3:18pm, September 6 2012