Friday, October 12, 2007

"Co-op rejects food boycott:

"Some members object to the sale of Israeli couscous "

Photo by Lon Hordewel, the Ann Arbor News:
"Elaine Rumann, Ann Arbor, a Palestinian-American, voices her displeasure to the board of the People's Food Co-op."
[Click on image to enlarge it.]

Friday, October 12, 2007

"'The Ann Arbor News" (Ann Arbor, Michigan)

Foods made in Israel will remain on the shelves of the People's Food Co-op in Ann Arbor after members voted overwhelmingly to reject a boycott.

The final number of votes in favor of the boycott was 262, which is lower than the 438 members who originally signed a petition asking for a referendum.

"The members asked for this debate, and now the members have spoken,'' said board President Linda Diane Feldt, noting that the process was a democratic decision-making in action.

The controversy began last winter when members objected to the sale of Israeli couscous at the Fourth Avenue grocery near the Ann Arbor Farmers Market.

After getting more than the required signatures, the issue was put to a vote through the month of September.

The issue divided many of the co-op's 6,000 members, with some insisting the co-op should not be involved in such a political issue, and others insisting the co-op should not support a country they believe has violated human rights against the Palestinians.

Supporters of both sides frequently showed up at the co-op to holding signs and passing out literature.

"Based on the reactions we got when we were standing on the sidewalk with our signs, I was encouraged that this would be the result,'' said Dan Cutler of Ann Arbor, a co-op member off and on since the '70s. "So many people came up and thanked us for being there after the other group had been there dominating the sidewalk for so many months.''

Thursday's announcement, which was made at the board's regular monthly meeting, did not immediately end the debate.

Several in the crowd said they believe the vote was rigged.

"I am frankly stunned by this result, given what people said to me as I stood outside,'' said Co-op member Karen Leslierres of Detroit, who supported the boycott. "Stunned. I cannot believe it. What is to have prevented someone from rearranging the count of the ballots, resubmitting totally new ballots to the liking of what was found?''

Treasurer Pete Schermerhorn explained the ballot process, insisting it was carefully done.
Feldt said anyone who wants to challenge the vote can contact her today.

"But keep in mind that you are basically accusing me and my fellow board members of lying,'' she said.

Edward Morin, one of about 25 members who attended the meeting, said the 23 percent voting for the boycott is a large number considering the access the public has to a "skewed media.'' He said he will not cancel his membership to the co-op as some have threatened, but regrets that there was such little dialogue about the suffering of the Palestinians.

"This issue will keep on because Americans themselves are suffering from neo-Zionism, and we're part of a growing group that is informing the public of what's going on,'' he said. "We're not preaching hate at all. We're preaching consideration and a drive to justice.''

Noting the city's liberal bent, Jessica Lieberman of Ann Arbor said that even here, a resounding majority has rejected the extremist views of the pro-boycott group.

"At this juncture, the boycott proponents would be wise to focus on a two-sided peace settlement,'' she said.

Later, as she left the meeting, she added: "I think this is a case of sore losers. I would have canceled my membership had it gone the other way, but I certainly wouldn't have accused you guys of anything.''

The co-op in the past has boycotted grapes in support of farm workers and tuna that endangered dolphins. But nothing has been this controversial, said Feldt, who hopes the conversation continues.

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