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October 16, 2013 10:33 am

England’s Cooperative Wholesale Society and the Israel Boycott

avatar by Josephine Bacon


A Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) protest against Israel. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

At the recent meeting of the North London Area Cooperative Movement on October 12, the area managers were asked about the Cooperative’s boycott of Israeli produce. Their answers weren’t convincing.

The Cooperative Wholesale Society in England has a long and rather eventful history. It was originally founded in 1863, making it 150 years old this year. Started by a small group of traders who clubbed together to stop the exploitation of fellow citizens by greedy capitalists, the Cooperative Movement has expanded into a network of stores, pharmacies, funeral services, and even a bank.

Unfortunately, it also “plays politics.”

The problem with an organization like the Cooperative Movement is that most of its members like to shop in Cooperative stores and get their “divi” (dividend), but they are not really interested in the political side. This leaves certain activists free to move in. And whenever there is a political vacuum in a left-wing movement, it is time for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) crowd to pounce.

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As a result, and after ten years of continuous pressure, the Cooperative Movement decided in 2012 – “on moral grounds,” according to one boycott supporter – to refuse to do business with the four main Israeli fresh food exporters because they do not discriminate between produce from the West Bank (Israeli and Palestinian) and other Israeli produce. This represents £350,000 of business annually.

The Cooperative is the only major food retailer in the U.K. to do this; no doubt the BDS people hoped others would follow suit – fortunately, they have not.

Cooperative literature describes the “illegal occupation” of the West Bank, but is happy to do business with dictatorships such as China and fake democracies like Russia and Zimbabwe. Though to be fair, as a fig leaf, the Cooperative has imposed a boycott of Moroccan Western Sahara’s exports of sardines. It has even claimed in some of its literature that its treatment of Israel “is not a boycott.”

To add insult to injury, Northern Cyprus, occupied by Turkey since 1974, is treated quite differently and its exports (mainly lemons) are marked as Turkish!

Some Coop members have decided to fight back, which is exactly what happened at the North London meeting held on October 12. There were various placatory statements from the committee, but no intention has been displayed by the Cooperative movers and shakers to reverse the boycott policy. Again, the boycotters denied they are operating a boycott, and even claimed that they continue to trade with Israel in other fields.

Meanwhile, the Coop’s trading figures go from bad to worse. Perhaps a curse (or some other Higher Power) has overtaken the Coop. Only the funeral service has done well, and the Cooperative Bank is about to go bust. In fact, to its utter shame, the Bank will not be honoring its full debt to its bond-holders and has been forced – against every tenet of the Cooperative Movement – to offer shares in the Bank on the Stock Exchange!

Is this bad luck, mismanagement — or divine intervention?

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