Pesto-gate: boycott that became a global farce

March 22, 2012

Never before has anyone covered all two hours of the monthly meeting of the Park Slope Food Co-op via Twitter - or, for that matter, any other media - as one of its members did last month.

But then, again, never before has the co-op, a 40-year-old progressive bastion in the heavily Jewish neighbourhood of Brooklyn, captured global attention.

The reason for Park Slope's unexpected fame stems from a battle over a proposed boycott of Israeli goods that is only now coming to a head, three years after it began.

Last month's meeting scheduled a March 27 vote on whether or not to hold a referendum on the boycott proposal, prompting one member, an opinion editor at Reuters, to live-Tweet the entire event. "The room is tense with passive aggression," noted one of Chadwick Matlin's first Tweets. "Free Oreos given out, but not free hummus."

Amid all the attention generated by the controversy, which has made global headlines and has even elicited a sketch from The Daily Show, some of the co-op's 16,000 members still do not know about the March 27 vote. This concerns the founder of More Hummus, Please - the anti-BDS faction inside the co-op - as she tries to marshal her forces.

At issue during the February meeting were just six Israeli products, including an olive pesto manufactured by PeaceWorks, a venture aimed at uniting Jews and Palestinians as business partners. Other items included paprika and vegan marshmallows.

Jon Haber, an anti-BDS activist, says that the boycott movement has zeroed in on food co-ops, viewing them as "soft targets" because of their loose structures and progressive membership.

But of roughly a dozen boycott attempts involving food co-ops, Mr Haber says, only one has succeeded - in Olympia, near Seattle, where the co-op's board made the decision without consulting staff or members.

Last updated: 4:27pm, March 22 2012