Monday, April 12, 2010

Boycott Fails at Davis - Muzzlewatch Cries "Foul"

I was wondering if Muzzlewatch would get around to denouncing the latest defeat of their beloved Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) “movement” at the Davis Food Co-op (DFC - one of the most successful Co-ops in the country).

The BDSers have been targeting food co-ops of late and, as noted here, the Davis Co-op’s board of directors recently voted unanimously that a ballot of members on whether or not to boycott Israeli products would not be appropriate for the organization. Needless to say, Muzzlewatch has cried “foul,” and – like the failed boycotters they echo – bemoaned the death of democracy at the Co-op.

If you can wade through the cement-like prose of Muzzlewatch guest author Jesse Bacon, he claims that DFC’s board rejected a ballot for two reasons: (1) fears that it was illegal and (2) fears of financial repercussion if members left the Co-op over the issue. Due to these fears, Muzzlewatch claims, DFC allegedly bypassed its own bylaws to prevent members from having their say on the issue.

Pretty damning, unless you know the actual details of the story which, unfortunately for Muzzlewatch, some of us do. For you see, the Co-op bylaws include an important clause requiring that any question must fulfill a “lawful and proper purpose” to get onto the ballot. And when they recently reduced the number of signatures needed to get a question onto the ballot from 15% to 5%, they explicitly stated that this easing would be accompanied by stricter enforcement of whether or not such a question passed the “lawful and proper” threshold.

Muzzlewatch chose to focus on the “lawful” part of the Co-op’s decision (and, indeed, the Co-op did issue a statement questioning whether or not a boycott at their store might fall afoul of US anti-boycott legislation). But by far the most critical decision by the Co-op (one that Muzzlewatch has chosen to ignore) was this statement as to why an anti-Israel boycott proposal was not considered “proper.” It was this decision that spelled the end of the Davis boycott project.

The Davis statement regarding the inappropriateness of a boycott of Israeli goods is remarkable in articulating every reason why a civic institution like the Co-op is not obliged to embrace boycott, divestment and sanctions just because the BDSers tell them they must. Such a motion, they state, demands that the organization hand over the “authority and discretion in the management and operation of the DFC to BDS, a third party entity that owes no [fiduciary] duty to the DFC or its members…” In other words, the BDSers are asking for a vote as to whether they vs. the Davis Co-op’s management have the final say over the store’s business practices.

Furthermore, the question would demand that the Davis Food Co-op accept the boycotter’s characterization of the Middle East as its own (the old BDS tactic of stuffing their words into someone else’s mouth), something the Co-op leadership rejects (especially since that characterization is dubious at best, one-sided and fraudulent at worst). The proposal is vague, they accurately claim, and creates no mechanism and sets no limits on how or when a third party (BDS) could veto the Co-op’s business decisions. And finally, the boycott would be in violation of principles Co-ops around the country (and world) have signed onto as the Co-op movement has grown over the last decades.

While the statement does include concerns over members leaving the Co-op over this boycott issue, this was just to highlight the fact that a boycott move would threaten the unity of the organization which the Co-op’s board is required to uphold.

In other words, a decision that Muzzlewatch would like to characterize as being based on questionable concerns over legality and fears of financial loss was actually based on sound, well-articulated principles (which may explain why Muzzlewatch decided to exclude the critical statement regarding the improperness of the boycott motion in their article on the subject).

Regarding decrying the death of democracy, it’s interesting to note that just last week Muzzlewatch was hailing a divestment decision by the Student Senate at Berkeley, a representative body comparable to the Davis Board, as the epitome of democratic decision-making and denouncing the decision of the equally elected Student Senate President to veto the measure. As usual, Muzzlewatch’s definition of “democracy” seems to change on a weekly basis depending on who is following the boycot party line on any given day.

Now Mr. Bacon does point out that several other Co-ops did put boycott questions to the ballot, only to see them overwhelmingly rejected by voters. And this does bring up a good point, albeit not the one Muzzlewatch might have thought. For these Co-op voter rejections of Israel boycotts simply join other near-unanimous votes by organizations like the Presbyterian and Methodist Churches to reject divestment from Israel, as well as decisions by representative bodies or individuals at places like Davis and Berkeley to give BDS the heave-ho.

Sometimes these decisions are made by voters, sometimes by elected officials, sometimes other types of decision-makers (like the management of Trader Joe’s). But in all cases they lead to the same place: boycott, divestment and sanctions being overwhelmingly rejected by everyone who gets a say in the matter (which, interestingly enough, includes the most progressive organizations in the country).

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