UK food retailer’s Israel boycott could harm Palestinians

Co-operative Group halts £350,000 worth of trade with produce suppliers over their ties to West Bank settlements.

Produce lettuce crops farming 370 (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Produce lettuce crops farming 370
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Britain’s fifth-largest food retailer, the Co-operative Group, will stop doing business with four Israeli companies, accounting for £350,000 worth of annual trade, over the companies’ ties to the West Bank.
The four companies the Co-op is severing ties with are Agrexco, Arava Export Growers, Adafresh and Mehadrin.
Following the announcement, pro-Israel blogger Elder of Ziyon noted that Agrexco, as well as exporting Israeli and settlement produce, also exports Palestinian produce from Gaza marketed under the company’s Coral brand.
The boycott seems likely to affect Palestinian farmers who use Agrexco to export their produce to Europe.
In response to a Jerusalem Post query, the Co-operative Group refused to comment on the harmful affect its boycott of Agrexco might have on Palestinian farmers in the Gaza Strip, saying only that “the Group will also continue to actively work to increase trade links with Palestinian businesses in the Occupied Territories.”
According to information from the IDF, more than 800 tons of strawberries were exported from the Gaza Strip through Israel in 2010 and 2011, and more than 13.8 million flowers were exported during the same period.
So far in 2012, more than 50 truckloads of flowers, tomatoes, dates, bell peppers and strawberries have been exported by Palestinian farmers through the border crossings with Israel.
Going forward, the Co-op said over the weekend, “we will additionally no longer engage with any supplier of produce known to be sourcing from the Israeli settlements.”
The food retailer clarified that the “position is not a boycott of Israeli businesses, and we continue to have supply agreements with some 20 Israeli suppliers that do not source from the settlements.”
A representative of the Palestinian Union of Agricultural Work Committees called on other European supermarkets to take similar steps.
Jon Benjamin, the chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, called the Co-op’s boycott “naive and a retrograde step.”
“This extension is significantly less than the full boycott of Israel sought by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
However, the Co-Op has not fully understood the Jewish community’s serious concerns with an everincreasing slippery-slope boycott policy.”
Despite the Co-op’s claim that it is applying its policy even-handedly, it still sells products from “Occupied Northern Cyrus” labeled as produce of Turkey, Benjamin said.
“The Co-Op claims that it may buy more produce from other Israeli companies in place of these four. This remains to be seen, and we will monitor the outcome closer,” he said.
A spokesman from the British Israel Coalition Public Affairs Committee (BICPAC), a recently established London-based Israel advocacy organization, also castigated the Cooperative’s stance.
“It seems the Co-Op has been hijacked by members who joined simply to vote in this sort of discriminatory policy. It has made clear where its loyalties lie, and has decided to take the side of those who wish to delegitimize Israel and attempt to damage her thriving economy,” BICPAC said.
The organization called on friends of Israel to respond accordingly until the Co-op changes its stance.
“We call on friends of Israel from all communities to respond by making clear where their loyalties lie, and choose to shop elsewhere until this ugly and policy is canceled. There are many shops in the UK which stock hundreds of Israeli goods. It is the duty of those who support a just and peaceful settlement between Israelis and Palestinians to continue buying those goods in shops which do not deliberately target Jews and Israelis with boycotts,” the BICPAC spokesman said.
In 2010, responding to a Norwegian petition to boycott Israel, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon described those calling for a boycott of the Jewish state as effectively “boycotting the peace process by automatically and unequivocally endorsing the Palestinian position and pushing them further away from the negotiating table.”
In the United States last month, members of the Park Slope Food Co-Op in Brooklyn voted down a proposal to ban Israeli foods by a landslide.
Late last year, the Trade Union Congress, Britain’s labor federation, voted to reaffirm its commitment to the boycott of Israel and to “review” at its annual conference in London its relationship with the Histadrut labor federation.
The motion called to encourage affiliates, employers and pension funds “to disinvest from, and boycott the goods of, companies who profit from illegal settlements, the occupation and the construction of the Wall.”
Last July, the Knesset approved the “Boycott Law,” which authorizes Israelis who are the targets of public boycotts – due to being in or connected with Israel, Israeli institutions or “areas under Israeli control” – to seek compensation for damages in court. The law also permits the finance minister to withhold benefits from bodies calling for boycotts and to prohibit their participation in state tenders.
The law defines a boycott as a call to refrain from cultural, economic or academic connections with an Israeli citizen, institution or company.
Gil Shefler and Joanna Paraszczuk contributed to this report.