Despite the efforts of a group called Boycott Israeli Goods, products made in Israel will remain on the shelves of the People’s Food Co-op of Ann Arbor.
At a meeting of the co-op’s Board of Directors last night, officials announced the outcome of a vote to determine whether the organization should boycott Israeli products. The final vote was 262 members in favor of the ban and 866 opposing it.
The motion to boycott Israeli goods started this summer when Boycott Israeli Goods proposed a referendum to the co-op’s board. The group aimed to protest what it said was cruel treatment of the Palestinian people by the Israeli government.
Although the co-op’s Board of Directors rejected the proposed referendum, the group collected 600 signatures – enough to force a vote by co-op members. A majority of the votes was needed to implement the ban.
After announcing the vote tally yesterday evening at Hathaway’s Hideaway, a meeting place on South Ashley Street, People’s Food Co-op President Linda Feldt said she received hundreds of e-mails and had conversations about the issue with both passionate supporters and opponents of the boycott. She said she doesn’t expect that to end.
“If someone would like to challenge the vote, I will be in touch tomorrow,” she said.
Another boycott of Israeli goods could still be proposed in the future, said Kevin Sharp, the co-op’s marketing and member services director, in a phone interview yesterday.
The audience at the meeting was a mix of Boycott Israeli Goods members and opponents of the ban.
Although he was satisfied with the outcome, Stephen Pastner, a visiting associate professor of anthropology at the University, clenched his fists during the board meeting. Pastner said he was furious at the motivations of the boycott’s supporters.
“I’m very angry at these people because they represent a perversion of everything I believe in,” Pastner said. “I consider myself a political progressive: they have co-opted the name of being progressive. They call themselves Jewish, witnesses for peace, but they’re anti-Semites, and they’re not for peace.”
Ann Arbor resident Elaine Rumman, who said she is Palestinian, spoke against the outcome of the vote when addressing members of the board. She said the Israeli government uses its power over the Palestinian people unjustly.
“I’m not happy at all for sure because they can do anything with power,” she said. “The Gaza is really shut off from all ways, I mean – why’re they doing that?”
Some members of Boycott Israeli Goods said the outcome was skewed by the way the voting and balloting were organized. During a question-and-answer session, audience members repeatedly asked questions the possibility of ballot fraud.
Ed Morin, a Boycott Israeli Goods member, said the ballots could have affected the outcome because they were confusing, but he said there were other factors in play.
“It wouldn’t have been this lopsided if that were the only cause,” said Morin, who ran unsuccessfully for the University Board of Regents in 2006 on the Green Party ticket. “I think a bigger factor is that we had opponents who were clearly supporting Israel unconditionally – in other words, Israel was their chief value, and they weren’t going to subject Israeli behavior to any moral criteria.”
He said many people were likely influenced to vote against the proposal by the members of the board who were concerned about the co-op’s image.
“If the ballot passes, we’ll lose a lot of members, we’ll lose business, and we’ll lose money,” he said, imagining the board’s rationale. “It’s not good for the co-op, and therefore this sort of thing shouldn’t be happening here.”