Commentary Magazine


Topic: Israeli products

The Brooklyn BDS Failure

Yesterday, Seth ran down the background of that evening’s Park Slope boycott vote. The motion asked the unintentionally hilarious members of the popular Brooklyn, New York, food co-op to vote on whether they should vote on boycotting Israeli products.

In the end it wasn’t even close:

Initially discussed at a co-op member board meeting over two years ago, the proposed boycott was brought to a vote on Tuesday night, with 1,005 members voting against the boycott and 653 voting in favor. Public Advocate and Brooklyn resident Bill de Blasio said he was proud of his neighbors for doing the right thing, calling the proposal inflammatory and destructive.

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Yesterday, Seth ran down the background of that evening’s Park Slope boycott vote. The motion asked the unintentionally hilarious members of the popular Brooklyn, New York, food co-op to vote on whether they should vote on boycotting Israeli products.

In the end it wasn’t even close:

Initially discussed at a co-op member board meeting over two years ago, the proposed boycott was brought to a vote on Tuesday night, with 1,005 members voting against the boycott and 653 voting in favor. Public Advocate and Brooklyn resident Bill de Blasio said he was proud of his neighbors for doing the right thing, calling the proposal inflammatory and destructive.

The Guardian’s U.S. News blog has a darkly entertaining rundown of highlights from the debate. You have to get past the predictable headline pitting Israeli goods against “human rights,” but after that there are treats like:

“Belonging to the co-op means belonging to justice. And injustice anywhere is an attack on justice everywhere,” said one young woman, who never quite made it clear which way she was leaning. A midwife announced that she had delivered babies on both sides of this argument, and that “peace on earth begins at birth.”

There were also references to hummus-inspired music, musings about the double-valenced implications of Chomsky quotes, and an explanation of how Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) can be properly and positively analogized to uncomfortable “house cleaning” enemas (and now you can’t unknow that!) By all appearances, the debate exceeded even the expectations laid out by the preemptive NY Daily News profile of BDS co-op advocates.

In many ways and on many levels, the Park Slope BDS failure is a perfect update to the failure of BDS across the United States. First BDS pushers tried to get entire left-leaning states to boycott Israel, and they failed. Then they tried to get left-leaning university campuses to divest, at which point they failed again. Now this.

Pity Norman Finkelstein. Having spent decades trying to demonize Israel in the highest international forums, he and his ilk now have to complain bitterly from the sidelines as 21st century anti-Israel activism is reduced to some guy trotting out intestinal cleansing metaphors in a futile effort to get vegan Israeli marshmallows banned from grocery stores in Brooklyn.

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Trendy Anti-Zionism Splits Brooklyn

“When we talk about hummus,” the Israeli academic Dafna Hirsch tells New York Magazine’s Matthew Shaer, “we talk on the material level and also the symbolic level. There is a mythology that completely surrounds hummus that doesn’t surround a lot of other foods. It’s a fascinating thing.”

Shaer was writing on the occasion of tonight’s vote-on-a-vote among the Park Slope faithful: whether the socially-conscious members of a popular Brooklyn food co-op should take another vote at a later date on whether to boycott Israeli products. Hirsch was not speaking specifically about this proposed boycott, but her comment about symbolism was appropriate: the food co-op isn’t exactly filled to the brim with products made in Israel. But the number of items isn’t the point. It’s the symbolic importance of expressing a chic hostility to the Jewish state. As Ruthie Blum put it in Israel Hayom last week:

The Jews of Park Slope are living very near to where their great-grandparents settled after getting off the boat at Ellis Island. However poor and dirty Brooklyn was in those days, it constituted freedom from an actual evil occupation – that of the Nazis. And however gentrified much of the New York City borough has become, many of its Jewish residents still care enough about the quality and price of their kosher food to join a food cooperative.

With a threat as great as Hitler’s annihilation machine looming large today, they should be ashamed of themselves for tolerating any assistance whatsoever to its enablers. In so doing, they are dishonoring their heritage and endangering their future.

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“When we talk about hummus,” the Israeli academic Dafna Hirsch tells New York Magazine’s Matthew Shaer, “we talk on the material level and also the symbolic level. There is a mythology that completely surrounds hummus that doesn’t surround a lot of other foods. It’s a fascinating thing.”

Shaer was writing on the occasion of tonight’s vote-on-a-vote among the Park Slope faithful: whether the socially-conscious members of a popular Brooklyn food co-op should take another vote at a later date on whether to boycott Israeli products. Hirsch was not speaking specifically about this proposed boycott, but her comment about symbolism was appropriate: the food co-op isn’t exactly filled to the brim with products made in Israel. But the number of items isn’t the point. It’s the symbolic importance of expressing a chic hostility to the Jewish state. As Ruthie Blum put it in Israel Hayom last week:

The Jews of Park Slope are living very near to where their great-grandparents settled after getting off the boat at Ellis Island. However poor and dirty Brooklyn was in those days, it constituted freedom from an actual evil occupation – that of the Nazis. And however gentrified much of the New York City borough has become, many of its Jewish residents still care enough about the quality and price of their kosher food to join a food cooperative.

With a threat as great as Hitler’s annihilation machine looming large today, they should be ashamed of themselves for tolerating any assistance whatsoever to its enablers. In so doing, they are dishonoring their heritage and endangering their future.

Lest you think Blum is being unfairly unkind to the aimless allies of the destroy-Israel movement, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was even harsher:

“I think it has nothing to do with the food,” he said of the boycott. “The issue is there are people who want Israel to be torn apart and everybody to be massacred, and America is not going to let that happen.”

The New York Times notes, “The boycott would be largely symbolic, because the co-op carries only a half-dozen or so products imported from Israel, including paprika, olive pesto and vegan marshmallows.” It’s possible if you have not recently been to Brooklyn, that sentence may strike you as absurd. But that is the modern reality for the borough’s residents, living among self-styled problem-solvers apparently in desperate need of real problems to solve–like how to stop the infiltration of Israeli vegan marshmallows.

As you might expect, Bloomberg is not the only city official who understands the inanity of the vote:

Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker, called the idea “ill conceived.” Bill de Blasio, the public advocate, said it was “madness.” Scott M. Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, described the proposal as “an anti-Semitic crusade.”

Because there are a not-insignificant number of Israeli immigrants and their descendants in Brooklyn (close to 8,000 as of the 2000 census), and New York is famous for welcoming immigrants, one can imagine why these politicians aren’t crazy about the Park Slopers’ hostile “activism.”

New Yorkers are generally a quite proud people when it comes to their city. Let’s hope Bloomberg, Quinn and the others speak for many Brooklynites in their hopes that this shameful episode passes without bringing the city any more embarrassment.

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