Debra J. Saunders
The statement at San Francisco's Rainbow Grocery Cooperative customer service counter read: "Thank you for your concern. We currently do not have a storewide boycott on Israeli goods. After a lot of storewide discussion and debate, some departments have decided to continue to sell products from Israel and others have decided to not carry them anymore in support of freedom for Palestinians and all people." I read the statement mid-afternoon Tuesday. Two hours later, Rainbow's public relations committee -- it's a cooperative, so everything's by committee -- issued a new statement. Gone was any reference to "freedom for Palestinians and all people." In its place was the assurance that only two departments -- package and bulk -- had voted to boycott Israeli products and that there was nothing anti-Semitic behind the vote. "The decision made by these departments does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Rainbow Grocery," the statement read. "Our workforce is an extremely varied group. We have a variety of opinions, and we don't always agree." Why the change? They were busted. A shopper discovered she couldn't buy Israeli gelt (chocolate coins) for Hanukkah because of the boycott at Rainbow, which, it turns out, had been in force for a year. Her husband then sent out an email on the boycott that traveled far and wide. Outrage provoked angry phone calls and Rainbow's PR voice mail was full. The "worker/owners" were in full damage-control mode. It would be easy to dismiss this food fight as a fringie fiasco. You know, discord among the large jars of beet root powder and bladderwrack, in a cooperative that is anything but -- cooperative, that is. But nothing stays fringe in San Francisco. Today, package and bulk. Tomorrow, City Hall divests all assets. Unless this movement is nipped in the bud. Is Rainbow boycotting any other countries, such as that champion of human rights abuses, China? The answer is no. Worker/owner Cyrus Heiduska explained that China sells too many products, and often much cheaper than goods from other countries. So why the Israeli boycott? Heiduska said that store workers knew that both sides had committed atrocities, but they wanted to show solidarity with "the most oppressed party." Do you think the Palestinians and their backers believe in freedom? I ask. "We want freedom for all people whether or not they are fighting for freedom. We believe that everybody deserves a home and a homeland and the ability to live in peace." The man who wrote the e-mail, I discovered, is Ian Zimmerman of personal- injury law advertising fame. Zimmerman doesn't think all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, but the boycott is "certainly anti-Semitic in its impact, and a reasonable person should see that." Yes, the store has a right to wage a boycott, just as consumers have a right to boycott the store. Zimmerman noted that the Rainbow brigade is now learning "that it's not a free ride, and I think that's a good thing." The odd thing is, for one year, there was a free ride. The boycotters heaped scorn on a small democracy fighting for its life, and no one said peep. No one asked if they were outraged at suicide bombers who deliberately kill Israeli children. No one challenged them to explain how they could say they are boycotting for freedom, without boycotting the oppressive financiers of violent Palestinians. They had a free ride. They could feel superior and pure, hyping "freedom for the Palestinians and all people." Except they didn't really mean that part about "all people."

Debra J. Saunders


 
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