By Haitham Sabbah
Olympia, WA– The Olympia Food Co-op Board of Directors has decided to boycott Israeli goods at their two locations in Olympia, Washington. At a July 15th meeting packed with Co-op members, the Board reached this consensus. The Co-op becomes the first US grocery store to publicly join the international grassroots movement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) on Israel for its human rights abuses.
Co-op board member Rob Richards explained, “My hope is that by being the first in the US to adopt the boycott we act as a catalyst for other co-ops to join in. Each additional organizational entity that joins may have a very small effect on the big picture, but drop by drop fills the tub.”
Noah Sochet, a Co-op member and Olympia BDS organizer adds, “As a US citizen and as a Jew, I’m proud to say that my Co-op no longer underwrites the suffering in Palestine.”
In accordance with its mission statement, the Olympia Food Co-op has a longstanding boycott policy, which includes a boycott of China (for its occupation of Tibet) and a previous boycott of Colorado (for legalizing discrimination against gays, lesbians, and bisexuals in 1992). The Co-op also has policies for rejecting items whose packaging feature exploitive or oppressive imagery.
One Israeli product is exempt from the boycott: “Peace Oil,” a brand of olive oil fairly traded from Palestinian farmers in the West Bank and the Galilee, will continue to be carried by the Co-op.
The boycott follows on the heels of a similarly historic event at the nearby Evergreen State College. On June 2, students at the Olympia-based college voted overwhelmingly to approve two resolutions calling on the college’s foundation to divest from companies profiting from the Israeli occupation of Palestine, as well as calling on the college to ban the use of Caterpillar equipment due to Caterpillar’s complicity in Israeli war crimes. The college is the alma mater of Rachel Corrie, who was killed by a weaponized Caterpillar bulldozer in the Gaza Strip in 2003.
News of the boycott has drawn praise from around the world, including in Israel. “I salute the great work of the people in Olympia,” said Yonatan Shapira, an Israeli Air Force captain and co-founder of Combatants for Peace. “The decision taken by the Olympia Food Co-op is an important step toward just peace for all people living in Israel/Palestine. It is also a step toward accountability for Israel’s murder of Rachel Corrie.”
The BDS movement began in 2005 when over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations in Israel and in Palestine issued a call for the nonviolent tactic of BDS on Israel until the country abides by international law and human rights standards. The BDS call has become an international movement, endorsed by renowned figures such as Desmond Tutu, Naomi Klein, and Alice Walker. The Co-op boycott comes two months after Italy’s largest supermarket chains, COOP and Nordiconad, declared a boycott of products exported by Israeli Carmel Agrexco.
Israel has responded to the BDS movement by arresting prominent Palestinian endorsers. The Knesset is currently considering legislation to outlaw endorsement of BDS by Israelis.