Britain’s Cooperative Group Embraces The Boycott Against Israel

This article appeared in the Philadelphia Jewish Voice.

On 28 April, the fifth largest supermarket chain in Britain, the Co-operative Group, voted to stop trading with Israeli companies that source some of their products from Jewish settlements in the West Bank. It is the first British supermarket chain to do so.

For those of us who oppose boycotts targetting the Jewish state, it is easy to dismiss this as irrelevant. After all, it’s not like the Co-op voted to ban all Israeli products. In fact the Co-op went out of their way to say precisely that. They’re not boycotting Israel, they said. They’re just boycotting “companies that profit from the occupation”.

The decision comes despite the Co-op’s already having taken care of the problem last year. According to their “Human rights and trade policy” report from 2011, “Significant time and resource is dedicated to safeguarding our Policy. For example, to ensure that none of our produce originates from the illegal Israeli settlements, we use a robust policing system of grower codes, map grid references and spot check audits on our complete supply chain. In this way we can guarantee that none of our produce comes from these settlements.”
Despite that guarantee, the Co-op felt it had to go one step further. Apparently, it was not enough to guarantee that no produce from the Jewish settlements. They’ve gone one step further.

Before dismissing the Co-op’s decision as being no big deal, it’s worth having a look at what supporters of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad in the UK are saying.

The London-based Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), which supports a “one-state solution” which would effectively destroy Israel, is ecstatic about the Co-op decision. “Fantastic news!” they declare on their website. “This important development … shows yet again the growing movement for solidarity with Palestine is having a concrete impact.” They are certain that other supermarkets will follow the Co-op lead. And they encourage all their supporters to now sign up as members of the Co-op to show their support for the boycott decision.

In the eyes of the PSC, this is a massive win. They’ve managed to extend the boycott of settlement goods to include produce grown inside of Israel proper. And they’ve done this by tainting Israeli agricultural export companies as bodies which “profit from the occupation”.

This new concept allows one to call for boycotts of all kinds of Israeli companies and institutions not directly linked to the settlements. In doing so, the boycotters are deliberately blurring the distinction between West Bank settlements and the rest of Israel. Theirs is a patient, one-step-at-a-time campaign aiming towards a complete boycott of the Jewish state.

The Guardian, a newspaper notoriously hostile to Israel, once again made no attempt at objectivity in its coverage. Referring to the pro-Hamas PSC as “Palestinian human rights campaigners”, they noted that this was “the first time a supermarket anywhere in the west had taken such a position”.

After quoting from several supporters of the boycott (but no one from the Jewish community in Britain), they concluded their account with a sneering reference to official Israeli policy. “Boycott campaigns against Israel are routinely denounced by Israeli officials as part of a drive to ‘delegitimise’ the Jewish state,” they wrote.

Routinely denounced. Delegitimise — in quotes.

British Jews are deeply worried by this development, saying that “the Co-op has not fully understood the Jewish community’s serious concerns with an ever-increasing slippery-slope boycott policy.”

They should not be alone in making this argument. They need allies in Britain, elsewhere in Europe and around the globe.

One can oppose the policies of the Netanyahu-Mofaz government including opposing the building of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

But to go from there to supporting a boycott of Israeli companies that may have “profited from the occupation” is a step too far.

The PSC’s strategy is absolutely clear and they’re not hiding it. They are taking this one step at a time.

First, persuade groups like the Co-op to boycott settlement goods. Few on the Left would speak out against that.

Second, ban goods from companies which source some of their products from the settlements. Again, very few voices would be heard against that either.

The next step is to ban all Israeli products on the basis that the Israeli economy and society “profit from the occupation”.

British Jews are feeling very worried about these developments.

One might think that this sort of thing can’t happen in America. But it can. The same logic – first ban settlement goods, then ban goods from those who “profit from the occupation” may well resonate in the US as well.

But if it can be shown that the concept of “those who profit from the occupation” is actually a code word for Israelis (or even Jews), we can turn this around.

The pro-Hamas “Palestinian human rights campaigners” may have gone a step too far.

This is a fight that we can win.