If It’s The Truth About Israel You Want Don’t Shop At The Co-op

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The Co-operative logo PMS2757 banned!

An SFI support has written to Mr Euan Sutherland, Co-op Chief Executive following the recent Co-op Sussex Area Meeting in Brighton. SFI will report back when the reply is received.

Euan Sutherland Esq
Group Chief Executive
The Co-operative Group
1 Angel Square
Manchester M60 0AG

29 October 2013

Dear Mr Sutherland


I am writing to bring to your attention some serious matters which arose at the above meeting.

I raised an amendment to the 2012 minutes – point 13. Shirley Huberman asked a question. Here’s the transcript of her question from my minutes: “The Coop’s boycott isn’t ethical and isn’t just. Palestinian trade unions are urging people not to boycott as it is hurting Palestinians – the very people the boycotts are supposed to help. They have been/are/will be losing jobs.” She received a huge round of applause. (From my original notes – see APPENDIX 1).

This was recorded in your minutes as follows: “The boycott of occupied territories is not ethical and open – trade unions in the territories do not support it.” I requested that this be amended as follows: 1) remove “occupied territories” or change it to “disputed territories”; 2) change “open” to “just” and 3) insert “Palestinian” before “trade unions”. The reasons for these changes were not nitpicking or timewasting but because the omission, addition and change significantly affected the meaning of the original question.

The Co-op panel told me that the minutes were not intended to be a verbatim record, merely encapsulate the spirit of what was said. Clearly in this case they did not capture the spirit as the record had been subtly but significantly skewed by the changes that had been made to the actual question.

The Chair, Sue Smith then put it to a vote. Although I’m somewhat at a loss to understand how a room of people many of whom hadn’t attended the 2012 meeting could have an opinion on the accuracy of the previous meeting’s minutes and be able to confirm that they reflected a true record.

The vote was close. However, the Chair, without counting the votes, said there were more in favour of not making the change therefore the minutes stood.

An independent gentleman then raised this matter as a point of order and was swiftly interrupted and shut down.

Procedurally I found this quite astonishing. (See APPENDIX 2). As you will be aware, a point of order must be resolved before a meeting may proceed.

Please let me know how you intend to remedy this situation and correct the inaccurate record of the meeting.

The glossy literature sent out by the Coop prior to the meeting said “It’s good to talk and we’ve been listening to what our members want for 150 years” along with “Attend a meeting and have your opinions heard loud and clear”. Sadly the reality of what was delivered at the meeting could not have been further from this.

First, my amendments to the previous year’s minutes were disallowed in a woefully procedurally unsound manner.

Secondly, a gentleman who raised a valid point of order had his objection summarily dismissed.

Thirdly, another man raising a question about banking had the microphone switched off whilst he was speaking.

Fourthly, a lady at the front asking a question about whether the Co-op was measuring the impact of its settlement boycott on Palestinian farmers was told by the Chair, Sue Smith, in what seemed to me to be the rudest most patronising manner “no, we’ve already said we’re not having any more questions about this. You’re not the only people in this meeting”. At this point, we’d had numerous questions about banking, pharmacy and various other matters so I struggled to see how the meeting had been “monopolised” by the Israel issue. It was in fact only the second question on this matter to be raised.

The lady said “have the decency to let me speak” to which Sue Smith said “no” and then another audience member shouted “let her speak” at which point Sue went “ughh” and then snapped “one question – are we measuring the impact and that’s it”. Sue Smith then said, “no we’re not measuring because we’re not boycotting”. I found this interesting as you clearly are in fact boycotting four Israeli companies. So not only did the Coop manage to re-write history in the minutes, your Chair also denied your boycott of Israeli settlement products was taking place.

In summary, there appears to be a chasm between Co-op’s vision and values and what was delivered at this meeting. Several Co-op members left the meeting extremely upset having felt that they were silenced, marginalised, ridiculed and ignored. Was that the intention from the start?

Let me remind you that on your corporate website, your vision and values refer to “our co-operative values:

Self-responsibility – we take responsibility for, and answer to our actions
Discrepancy: at the meeting you denied your boycott policy existed

Democracy – we give our members a say in the way we run our businesses
Discrepancy: at the meeting you denied Israel supporters the opportunity to voice concerns

Equity – we carry out our business in a way that is fair and unbiased
Discrepancy: you apply “ethical” standards on Israel but fail to apply these to all countries with disputed territories or alleged human rights violations

Solidarity – we share interests and common purposes with our members and other co-operatives.
Discrepancy: you’ve turned your backs on Palestinian trade unions who have urged you not to boycott as it penalises the very people you’re “trying” to help.

Openness – nobody’s perfect, and we won’t hide it when we’re not
Discrepancy: the meeting I attended was appalling both procedurally and ethically. Unless the errors are put right, then quite frankly you can rip up this “ethic” as you have failed to come close.

Honesty – we are honest about what we do and the way we do it
Discrepancy: denial of a boycott isn’t honest – nor is shutting down the raising of valid concerns from members.

Concern for community – co-operatives also work to improve and develop the community, both locally and internationally.
Discrepancy: boycotts are anti-peace and destructive. To deliver on this ethic you should engage in dialogue with Israeli and Palestinian trade unions and Israeli supporters in the UK to devise a strategy that is constructive and conducive to peace.

I believe that, in principle, the Cooperative Group should be commended for its ethical values – a refreshing stance in stark contrast to many of today’s tax avoiding, profiteering corporates. However, I also believe that the Co-op has behaved naively in respect of the territories boycott, allowing itself to be manipulated by a small but vocal, organised and well funded group (BDS/PSC or similar). (For your information, please see attached APPENDIX 3 outlining how well funded these groups are).

Whilst I understand the Co-op’s position is based on perhaps questionable UN Resolutions, the UN itself is fundamentally flawed, biased and often politically rather than morally motivated. (See APPENDIX 4).

The Guardian added context in the quote from Abba Eban that “if Algeria introduced a resolution declaring that the earth was flat and that Israel had flattened it, it would pass by a vote of 164 to 13 with 26 abstentions”.

This makes the Co-op’s boycott potentially unsound. Further, the partial boycott is the thin edge of the wedge. The BDS movement view the boycott as a victory and will continue to push to increase it to the whole of Israel and use the dangerous precedent set by the Co-op to pressurise other retailers into doing the same. Therefore, whilst I am grateful that the Co-op didn’t exercise a total ban on Israel, I feel the settlement ban is dangerous and should not be left unchallenged.

In summary, I believe that the Co-op’s position on settlement goods is flawed and wrong for a number of reasons. First, it’s based on directives from the UN, an organisation that is fundamentally biased and politically not morally motivated. Secondly, it is inconsistent. If the criterion for boycotting is alleged human rights violations and/or annexed territory there are many other countries (such as Turkish Cyprus, Gibraltar, Syria, Burma, Tibet, China, Saudi, Qatar etc) and territories (Portuguese India, Sikkim, Ogaden, Rockall, East Timor, Kuwait etc) that should be subject to boycott by the Co-op. Thirdly and most importantly, boycotts are the antithesis of dialogue, cooperation, and developing peaceful ties between Israelis and Palestinians. This is especially relevant when one considers that Israelis and Palestinians are currently engaged in peace talks (something that wasn’t taking place at the time of your decision). This change of circumstance alone warrants a review of your policy.

For all of these reasons, I urge you to reconsider your policy. I look forward to your immediate and personal response. Any delay, or delegation of a response to this letter by customer services sending out a standard response will only further negatively impact up the Co-op’s goodwill.

I would just like to end on some statements from various governments and organisations around the world about BDS. The reason for this is that at previous Co-op meetings, I was told that the Co-op was “simply following international consensus” (a bit like the Nazi guard saying “I had no choice”. However this simply isn’t true. There isn’t consensus. The Co-op doesn’t have to boycott the territories. There are many senior world leaders who believe that boycotts against Israel (or the territories are wrong). Should the Co-op reverse its decision it would be in excellent company.

And perhaps now, under new leadership, it’s time for the Cooperative to reconsider its position… (listed alphabetically by country)

Australia “I don’t think in 21st-century Australia there is a place for the attempted boycott of a Jewish business.” (Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, August 8, 2011)

“Boycotts of – and attacks on – Jewish commerce like this belong in the darkest chapters of our history books not in the shopping centres of Melbourne in 2011.” (Australian Federal Labor MP Michael Danby, July 3, 2011)

Canada: “We have de-funded organizations, most recently, like KAIROS who are taking a leadership role in the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign.” (Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, December 16, 2009)

Denmark: “It is clear that boycotts are not very helpful.” (Danish Foreign Minister Lene Espersen to Danish Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee November 23, 2010)

European Council: “The Council believes that dialogue with Israel in the framework of the political arrangements, as set out in the Association Agreement and in the ENP Action Plan, remains, for the time being, the most effective way to discuss with the Israeli government the EU’s concerns regarding respect for human rights and international law, and to encourage positive steps.” (Answer by the EU Commission regarding calls to sanction Israel by freezing the Association Agreement, September 20, 2010)

European Commission: “the Commission is of the view that the Arab boycott is contrary to the spirit of the Barcelona Declaration and thus incompatible with the new Euro-Mediterranean partnership. In this respect, the Community has repeatedly undertaken demarches with the Arab countries concerned with a view to lift the boycott as a contribution to the Middle East peace process. Extra-territorial application of such a boycott purporting to regulate activities of natural and legal persons under the jurisdiction of another state also violates international law.” (Answer by Mr Marin on behalf of the EU Commission March, 25, 1998, regarding the coordinated Arab boycott of Israel)

France: “Not only is the boycott contrary to French law, but it creates mistrust between people and does not contribute to the creation of trust necessary for peace.” (French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé, May 4, 2011)

“The case of Willem v. France (application no. 10883/05) concerning the conviction of the mayor of Seclin for calling for a boycott of Israeli products. The Court held by 6 votes to 1 that there had been no violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights” (European Court of Human Rights Ruling that France’s anti-boycott law does not violate freedom of expression, July 16, 2009)

Germany: “(The) German government does not support such [Boycotts, divestment and Sanctions] campaigns.” (HE Ambassador Michael Witter, February 24 2011)

Ireland: “I can confirm that the Irish Government does not support proposals for trade sanctions or boycotts against Israel. This has been stated publicly by Government representatives on many occasions.” (Owen Feeney, on behalf of Minister of State for Overseas Development Mr. Peter Power T.D., in letter to NGO Monitor from June 2, 2010)

Netherlands: “(Boycott activities are) directly contradictory to Dutch government policy.” (press release, Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs January 13, 2011)

“Dutch efforts, and those of the international community, with regard to the peace-process in the Middle-East, are aimed at immediately resuming the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Calls for boycott do not contribute to this.” (Press release, Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, August 22, 2011)

Norway: “The ambassador is vehemently opposed to any form of boycott of Israel” (HE Ambassador Svein Sevje, Norway’s Ambassador to Israel, December 7, 2010)

“Boycott was not government policy” (Norwegian FM Jan Petersen, January 5, 2006 BBC)

“[local boycott campaigns are] contrary to international law, Norwegian law, the EEA Agreement and the WTO Agreement.” (Norwegian FM Jan Petersen in 2005)

Sweden: “Dialogue instead of boycott (…) The government’s position is that restrictions on trade are not an appropriate way to resolve the conflict” (Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

UK: “The UK government does not support the BDS movement” (Gillian Dare, UK FCO, letter to NGO Monitor, March 8, 2011)