Friday, September 28, 2007

Ann Arbor City Councilmember Lowenstein complains to the "Michigan Daily", about boycott of Israeli goods

"At co-op, a battle over Israeli goods
"A Kerrytown institution is split by Mideast politics"

By Daniel Strauss, Daily Staff Reporter

MICHIGAN DAILY (Ann Arbor, Michigan)

On the Web at:

On Saturday morning at the People's Food Co-op of Ann Arbor, shoppers perused the shelves stacked with fat jars of herbs and pesticide-free alternatives to everyday essentials, like Herbal Insect Repellant and Muir Glen Organic Salsa.

The store is divided into two sections: One side is a grocery store, with shopping carts and frozen produce. The other side is for dining in.

There's a buffet of hot dishes- including vegan blueberry pancakes - and a counter selling organic desserts like almond chocolate cheesecake. There are a few University students, families with little children and some elderly couples.

And then there are the people outside with the signs.

They're objecting to the co-op's sale of Israeli goods.

Earlier this summer, the protesters formed the group Boycott Israeli Goods. Their purpose is to get the co-op, located on North Fourth Avenue in Kerrytown, to stop selling Israeli-made products until Israel stops what the group calls the poor treatment of Palestinians. Co-op members - anyone who has paid a $60 fee by July 31 - are voting on the proposal throughout the month. Their votes are due by Sept. 30.

This summer, members of Boycott Israeli Goods went before the co-op's board with a proposal that the store stop selling Israeli goods, according to the co-op's website.

During the summer, the pro-boycott group collected enough signatures from the 6,000 co-op members to force a vote. The board refused, but under the co-op's bylaws, any vote by the eight-person board can be overruled if 7 percent of co-op members disagree with the board's decision.

Martha Federbush was outside the co-op on Saturday morning with a "Vote Yes to Boycott Israeli Goods."

"I've been out here for about an hour and a half," she said. "But it feels more like two and a half."

Most passersby ignore Federbush and the two other protesters, but occasionally someone will stop or say something.

"You think you're helping Palestinians by boycotting an organic food store?" a man said as he walked by with his son.

Federbush yelled back that boycotts like hers are how people fought the South African apartheid. The man kept walking.

The dozen or so Israeli products make up one-one hundredth of 1 percent of the store's annual revenue.

This summer, members of Boycott Israeli Goods went before the co-op's board with a proposal that the store stop selling Israeli goods, according to the co-op's website.

Members of the boycott group say they're not trying to stir up trouble, they're just trying to help the Palestinians.

"I'm Jewish, and I've been to Palestine, and it was really disturbing," said Sol Metz, a member of Boycott Israeli Goods. "What I saw was that in the name of Jews everywhere, the Palestinians were being treated almost as badly as we were by the Nazis."

But they have stirred up some trouble.

"Our opposition, when they called or e-mailed, would constantly tire us with things like our bad characters or assume that we were anti-Semitic because we criticize Israel," said Ed Morin, another Boycott Israeli Goods member who unsuccessfully ran last year for a seat on the University Board of Regents on the Green Party ticket.

Ann Arborites for Mid-East Peace was founded this summer to fight the boycott.

City Council member Joan Lowenstein (D-Ward 2), a member of the opposition group, said Boycott Israeli Goods members should just not buy Israeli goods rather than ask the co-op to stop selling them.

"It's more that it's singling out Israel which I think is improper," Lownestein said. "I think it's just a purely anti-Israel move and is unwarranted."


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