Park Slope Co-op fixes the Middle East

By Amanda Marcotte
Wednesday, August 3, 2011 15:02 EDT
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As I've noted before, the first neighborhood I lived in when we moved to Brooklyn was the famous/nefarious Park Slope, land of the mind-bogglingly huge strollers and some pretty damn solid resale shops.  I liked a lot about Park Slope, but you know, it's hard not to want to start a Tumblr titled "Reasons I'm Glad I Don't Live in Park Slope (Anymore)". Reasons such as this one, obtained from this tweet:

I brought this up at a small gathering last night, and as one of my fellow gatherees astutely noted that there's absurdity here beyond the sum of money you can get for a used stuffed monkey: the extremely low opinion of your fellow humans that you have to have in order to offer such a reward.  After all, we can all imagine what has happened here.  A small child has lost a beloved toy, and in the throes of grieving his/her first love, has made the parents quite miserable.  Who amongst us cannot relate to the pain, both the child's and the parent's? Who amongst us wouldn't, if we found this sad little stuffed monkey and saw this sign, simply pull out our cell phone and reunite child and toy, for free?  Would most people really need to be bribed to grease the wheels of true love reinstated?  No, I think not.  And yet, here this parent feels that no sum less than $500 will cause their fellow human beings to relieve the pain of this loss by returning the monkey, slightly bruised and dirtied, to the grieving child. 

But this bit of Park Slopian mind-fuckery has nothing on this story.

Last week, the [Park Slope] co-op held its first open discussion about whether or not to endorse B.D.S., an international movement that calls for the boycott, divestment and sanctioning of Israeli products and companies. Supporters see B.D.S. as a nonviolent way to attack Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories, while critics claim the movement stinks of anti-Semitism. The issue has been batted around the co-op for years, from the bulk aisles to the letters section of the biweekly Linewaiters’ Gazette, house organ of the organic house.

It began in earnest during the Jan. 27, 2009, general meeting, when Hima B., a self-described queer-centric, intradependent filmmaker who eschews a last name, made a comment during the open forum that ran in the next issue of the newsletter: “I don’t know whether or not we carry Israeli products, but I propose that we no longer carry them.” Apparently there were some Sharon persimmons and organic red peppers in stock, but that was as far as the discussion went. It was followed by news of broken debt card machines on Christmas Eve.

For the entire 14 months we lived in Park Slope, we were asked roughly twice a week if we were members of the co-op, which we initially thought might be mandatory if you live in the Slope.  We never did join.  We took the tour of it and considered it after having people rave to us about how it's a great lefty institution, and very socialist in nature. Much (most?) of the labor is provided by members—you have to work a 3 hour shift once a month—which I thought wasn't actually that leftist or socialist at all, but more like anarachist.  Being the labor-oriented lefty that I am, I would rather pay a higher fee and actually give people jobs, instead of work three hours so that I, an already-employed person, could get slightly cheaper food at the grocery store.  So we didn't join.  

I can say that this particular situation makes me all the gladder for it.  I enjoy being free of having to engage any delusions that a single neighbor hippie co-op is really go to create a Palestinian state by turning its nose up to the importation of hummus and olives.

But wait, it gets worse:

The debate likely would have remained within the confines of 782 Union Street had someone at The Jewish Daily Forward not noticed those three innocuous paragraphs. The ensuring article got picked up by Ha’aretz and a million little blogs, setting off a media frenzy that consumed the co-op for months. The debate—angry letters, dirty looks—did not die down until the following fall. When the Gaza flotilla fiasco occurred last summer, it inflamed the issue yet again, which led a group of about 20 co-op members to push for a referendum on B.D.S., the subject of last week’s meeting. This being a democratic institution, everyone gets their say, but saying it takes time. It will be at least six months before the referendum can be taken up….

It is not clear how many Israeli products the co-op carries. Ms. Mazor said there are only bath salts and the occasional peppers or lychee. Emily Damron, a pro-B.D.S. member, said there were many more products, which would be impossible to know without a full accounting of suppliers and manufacturers. Ultimately, the movement’s aims go beyond the Israeli economy. “I welcome sending a strong message to Washington this way,” Ms. Damron said.

I'm certain that Washington will drop what they're doing and say, "A Brooklyn co-op is so serious about this that they're depriving their customers, excuse me, members of Israeli bath salts?  Time to push harder on that human rights front!"

But this is my favorite detail:

While last week’s meeting seemed surprisingly orderly to many of those in attendance, opponents like Ms. Mazor feel B.D.S. could alienate many co-op members. Already there are dueling blogs, psfcbds.wordpress.com and stopbdsparkslope.blopgspot.com—part of an emerging genre—and should a vote be held, it could divide granola-munching families and friends. There is fear of an exodus of Jews.

There are entire blogs about this. The usual accusations that crop up whenever the debate over Israel heats up are being flung around, but this time it's over what kind of organic goods at low prices will be available to people living in a relatively small area of Brooklyn.  I look forward to the new fronts that open up in the political battles over Israel. Perhaps if dedicated citizens work on this hard enough, we can find a way to make fights over parking spaces and noise ordinances into the determining factor that will somehow bring peace to Israel. 

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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