Why it should have taken two writers – both Observer ‘chief reporter’ Tracy McVeigh and Guardian Jerusalem correspondent Harriet Sherwood – to put together what is in fact no more than a re-hash of a ‘Boycott Israel Network’ press release is anyone’s guess. But it apparently did, and the result is this so-called article from April 29th on the subject of the Co-operative Group’s decision to boycott not only Israeli firms located over the green line, but also those with any connections to other businesses in those areas.
The section from the BIN press release which McVeigh and Sherwood neglected to include provides background information on how this decision on the part of the Co-op came about.
“The announcement by the Co-op came just before their Regional AGMs, due to take place over the next two weeks, and where motions on this issue have been submitted for discussion. For months Co-op members have been highlighting their concerns about trade with complicit companies through co-ordinated letter-writing and discussions with local offices.”
For those unfamiliar with the Co-op’s structure and the manner in which that lends itself to easy manipulation by pressure groups, here is a brief primer. Anyone over the age of 16 can become a member of the Co-op for £1. Most of those who join do so for the offers, discounts and end of year dividends, but it is also possible for them to set up local members’ groups and the Co-op actually assigns funding to enable their meetings.
The nature and purpose of each local group depends very much upon the members. Some might choose to go in for tasting the supermarket’s new range of wines at their meetings. Others may decide to recruit more new members at a local gala or engage in some kind of charity work. Still others may decide to liaise between the Co-op and the local community on a transition town-style green agenda – for example persuading their local Co-op to abandon the use of plastic bags or recycle food waste as compost.
The local groups send representatives to regional meetings, which in turn send representation to national level meetings. Thus, anyone committed enough to put in the time and effort can promote a specific agenda and influence the Co-op’s operations at both local and national level.
And that is precisely how this latest (and the previous, less far-reaching) boycott decision came about. Around 2008 the Co-op was identified by anti-Israel campaigners – in particular members of the PSC – as a ‘soft’ target. They became members, set up local groups and began pushing their agenda up the ladder. That task was not particularly difficult; the vast majority of Co-op members do not attend meetings and even those who do are often quite relieved to find that someone else is willing to spend time going to regional AGMs.
The project was made even easier by the fact that, unable to compete with Britain’s big supermarket chains on price or quality, the Co-op markets itself as the progressive ‘ethical’ alternative.
Sherwood and McVeigh quote one Hilary Smith in their article, describing her as “Co-op member and Boycott Israel Network (BIN) agricultural trade campaign co-ordinator”. The Boycott Israel Network of course involves itself in far more than just supermarket boycotts.
Smith is also a member of Sheffield PSC and Sheffield BDS and active in the ‘Coordin8‘ lobbying network (her regional organizer is recent failed ‘flytilla’ participant and would-be fixer of online polls Terry Gallogly of York PSC). In 2009 she was to be found addressing students occupying Sheffield University on behalf of Sheffield PSC and is apparently not averse to the libeling of Israel as an ‘apartheid’ state.
In February of this year Smith took part in an ‘Israel Apartheid Week’ event at Sheffield University which also featured a speaker from ‘Who Profits‘, (a ‘Coalition of Women for Peace‘ offshoot) who was described in the promotional material as coming “from Haifa in the occupied territories”. That negation of Israel’s existence is of course an underlying principle of the BDS movement.
In addition to her above activities, Hilary Smith is also a ‘volunteer international coordinator’ for the ‘Free Gaza’ movement ‘. Here she is reporting on a ‘Free Gaza’ speaking tour of the UK. Here she is acting as official contact and spokesperson for UK Free Gaza in 2009. Here she is posting information about the 2010 flotilla on the UK Trade Union movement’s ‘Labournet‘ site and here complaining to the BBC about its coverage of the Mavi Marmara incident and its portrayal of the ‘Free Gaza’ movement. Ahead of the 2008 flotilla organized by ‘Free Gaza’, Smith chaired a press conference held in London.
The participants in one of the 2008 jaunts organized by ‘Free Gaza’ did reach their destination and were received (and presented with medals) by leaders of Hamas, – the terrorist organization designated by the UK government which ‘Free Gaza’ enables and supports.
Activists in the ‘Free Gaza’ movement are very aware of the legal implications of their actions, as this briefing document – seized aboard a ‘Free Gaza’ ship – indicates.
For the source of the above document and more information on the ‘Free Gaza’ movement, its ties to Hamas and other designated terror-connected organizations such as the IHH and its roots in the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), see here.
The management of the Co-operative Group may not be aware that it has in fact been manipulated into this latest boycott move by subscribers to a political campaign which works towards the rather less than ethical ultimate aim of wiping a sovereign country off the map and often collaborates with designated terror organisations in order to do so.
On the other hand, the Co-op might simply not care. After all, this is the same organization which (rather hilariously, given its advertising spiel on ‘ethical banking‘) provides banking services to George Galloway’s ‘Viva Palestina‘ – which is at this very moment on yet another Hamas-supporting road-trip and travelling via Syria, where the incumbent dictator (for whom Galloway has such admiration) is still slaughtering civilians in their thousands.
This new boycott move by the Co-operative Group should actually be seen as very useful on a number of fronts.
It exposes the way in which it is laughably easy for very small numbers of energetic activists to dictate the agendas of large organizations in the UK. We have seen it happen in British churches, universities and trade unions – now it is the turn of the co-operative movement.
It also points a spotlight on the discrepancies between the ‘ethical’ image the Co-op likes to project for PR purposes and its actual practice. Let’s face it; the £350,000 worth of trade affected by this boycott is negligible (barely the price of a modest Tel Aviv apartment), but the move does highlight once again how the Co-op is apparently willing to overlook the terror-sympathetic connections (and real aims) of clients and campaigning members in order to curry favor with a perceived ‘progressive’ client base.
The move also serves to highlight the manner in which UK-based anti-Israel campaigners have in the last decade or so managed to bring their message into the mainstream at local levels. Using letters to local newspapers, occasional PSC or ‘Friends of Palestine’ stalls and demonstrations, co-opting the support of churches and various specific interest groups, they have ensured that although the vast majority of the population understands little or nothing about the Arab-Israeli conflict, many are nonetheless convinced that they are capable of making ethical judgments about it.
Of course most British citizens will find this move by the Co-op somewhat less than ethical, if not downright abhorrent. The good news is that due to the company’s structure, they can do something about it by using exactly the same methods as employed by BDS activists in order to reverse the agenda.