Food fight in tofu-land
Debra J. Saunders
12/6/2002 12:00:00 AM - 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
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.
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."