Saturday, October 6, 2007

1,100 vote in Boycott-Israel referendum at People's Food Co-op:

"Co-op's boycott vote result delayed:
"Outcome to be announced Thursday"

Saturday, October 06, 2007


ANN ARBOR NEWS (Ann Arbor, Michigan)

On the Web at:

The votes are in and they've been counted. But those wondering whether members of the People's Food Co-op in Ann Arbor have decided to boycott Israeli products must wait until the co-op board meeting next Thursday to learn the official result.

Members on both sides have threatened to leave the co-op depending on the results, said Kevin Sharp, director of marketing and member services.

"I'm worried that whichever way it goes, someone will be displeased, and they'll feel their best decision is to disengage from the co-op,'' he said. "I would rather everyone stay engaged and involved.''

The controversy began months ago when a few shoppers noticed some Israeli couscous for sale at the co-op's store on Fourth Avenue and formed a group called Boycott Israeli Goods. They stood outside the co-op and collected about 600 signatures of co-op members who believe the issue should be put to a vote.

That was enough to force a referendum on the issue among the nearly 6,000 members, who were invited to cast one vote each during the month of September. About 1,100 valid votes were cast.

The diverse membership has many perspectives on the issue, as evidenced in part by on-line commentary and letters to The Ann Arbor News.

"Even before this came up, we'd get periodic feedback about products we carried,'' said Sharp. "China is one people bring up a lot, or products owned by corporations, although that's most of what we sell in the store. ... It's a tough call, where to draw the line. But that's what's nice about this democratic process. It lets the members decide.''

As people showed up nearly every day during September to hold signs and pass out material outside the co-op, there were a number of complaints about anti-Semitic remarks, people being encouraged to vote more than once, and people standing too close to the door, said board President Linda Diana Feldt.

But, she said, she also heard reports of people on both sides of the issue talking peacefully to each other.

The board meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Hathaway's Hideaway, 310 S. Ashley St., near Fleetwood Diner. Immediately following the meeting, the results will be posted in the store and on the co-op's Web site at .

Jo Mathis can be reached at or 734-994-6849.