Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Rachel Corrie's hometown divests from Israel

July 20, 2010

Washington – A food co-op in the hometown of Rachel Corrie, the American activist killed by an Israeli bulldozer in 2003 and namesake of a Gaza aid ship earlier this year, has launched a divestment campaign against Israeli products, Haaretz reported Tuesday.

The Olympia, Washington Food Co-op board of directors met last week to make the final decision to endorse the boycott. "A couple of board members were concerned about what will be the financial effect on the organization, but it’s minimal," board member Rob Richards told Haaretz. "For me personally there is a moral imperative that goes beyond any financial concern. So we decided to adopt the boycott which went into effect the next day."

The boycott in Olympia, which is right now only enforced in two grocery stores, will likely have little direct effect on the divestment effort. But the board decision is symbolic, both as part of growing move in America and also because of what Olympia is: Rachel Corrie’s hometown. Last month, the student body at Evergreen State College in Olypmia, where Corrie studied, passed two declarations calling for the school "to divest from companies that profit from Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine" and to ban Caterpillar equipment from campus. It was a Caterpillar bulldozer that killed Corrie as she tried to prevent it from demolishing a home in the Gaza Strip.

"The fact that it is the home town of Rachel Corrie’s parents and that it is represented by Rep Brian Baird (who has been to Gaza and is outspoken against Israel) makes this ripe for issues," said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi of The Israel Project, a pro-Israel organization, in the Haaretz report. "So does the fact that it does not have a very organized pro-Israel community. This went under the radar screen at a time when most groups were focused on Iran sanctions and other macro issues."

Richards defended the plurality behind the co-op decision. "There was very little feedback from the staff that was against the boycott, but it seemed as minority opinion," said Richards. "We have two members on the board from the Jewish community who were supportive of the boycott – it’s pretty progressive town. I know that’s not universal at the Jewish community."

The boycott will refuse any products coming from Israel, both those from within and beyond the Green Line. But exceptions will be made for any products that "improve the conditions of the Palestinians."

While the divestment movement is much stronger and more popular in Europe, it is beginning to gain steam in the US. Monday, Jewish Voice for Peace activists went to the New York headquarters of investment firm TIAA-CREF to deliver thousands of signatures demanding the firm divest from companies that "profit from the violation of international law through home demolitions, the destruction of life sustaining orchards, the construction of roads and transit that only Israelis can use, the killing of civilians by drones, and many other injustices." Companies on the activists’ list include Caterpillar, Elbit, and Motorola.

Much of the pressure for divestment has triumphed on college campuses. There has also been a counterforce called "Invest for Peace" that promotes not divestment but instead microfinance projects in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Both movements are growing in numbers.


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