Jewish World Review Dec. 6, 2002 / 1 Teves, 5763
Debra J. Saunders
Food fight in tofu-land
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." (The part in italics was
highlighted marked "optional," so staffers could
choose not to repeat it.)
I read the statement midafternoon 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 e-mail 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
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 champeen 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 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 of local 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
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."
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© 2000, Creators Syndicate