I wrote to the Co-op to ask them to stop stocking Israeli goods. Their reply is below, followed by my reply to their reply. Readers, please feel free to adapt my letter, and send your own.
Thank you for your enquiry about the Co-operative’s stance on stocking products sourced from Israel.
We view developments in Israel with some concern, sharing those of many others. In general though, it is not our policy to support boycotts because of the adverse impact they can have on individuals and communities not directly involved and in the case of Israel, the many Palestinian workers dependent on the Israeli economy.
Therefore we continue to trade with Israel, mainly sourcing fresh produce to provide a continuity of high-quality product and to maintain year round supplies. However, labelling to ensure that our customers have the information necessary to enable them to make an informed purchasing choice, is a key aspect of our Responsible Retailing policy, which includes clearly indicating the country of origin on pack. All Co-operative brand products are clearly labelled with the country of origin. Additionally all suppliers of own brand products are included within the scope of our sound sourcing programme; this addresses workplace issues including fair treatment and discrimination, complementing the broader political dialogue in the region.
The Co-operative does not source any own brand primary produce from illegal West Bank settlements. All Co-operative brand suppliers are aware of our position on the occupied territories and have given us an undertaking that any products supplied to us by them are not sourced from this region.
In addition, we carry out traceability audits to confirm product origins on an ongoing basis. We have also contracted an external third party body to verify the accuracy of sourcing statements from our supply base.
However, we do recognise that there may be some legitimate Palestinian-owned businesses which want to export their products to the UK market. The measures which are outlined above, by which the integrity of our supplies can be confirmed, enable them to do this in a way which ensures their legitimacy.
On this point, I am pleased to confirm that The Co-operative has introduced to the UK the first Fairtrade MARK product to come out of Palestine – a Fairtrade olive oil. We were the first UK supermarket to list this unique product.
I trust that this information has helped to clarify our position on these matters, and would like to thank you once again for the interest you have shown in our activities.
And my reply:
Thank you very much for your response. I must say it was rather disappointing, coming from the Co-operative with its history of supporting struggles for justice.
If you cast your mind back twenty years you will remember the ultimately successful boycott campaign against apartheid South Africa. I believe the Co-op supported the boycott tactic in that instance. At the time Mrs Thatcher and Ronald Reagan argued against boycott for precisely the reasons you use – the adverse effect on people not directly involved, and on the victims themselves. This was a patronising line to say the least, as black South Africans themselves had asked for the boycott. Today, a huge coalition of Palestinian civil society organisations have called for a boycott of Israel, and they are joined by a few Israeli Jews who can see that a continuation of the status quo will result in an epic disaster for all concerned, Jews, Westerners, and Arabs.
Perhaps you think my comparison with apartheid South Africa is far fetched. Archbishop Desmond Tutu says the situation in Palestine-Israel is “worse” than South African apartheid. Nelson Mandela says “our freedom will not be complete until the Palestinians are free.” I have been to the West Bank recently, and I can confirm that a system of pass laws in in place to rival and even exceed apartheid South Africa. Very many Palestinians (in Israel proper – where Palestinians can be citizens but not nationals of the state – as well as in the territories occupied in 1967) live in deliberately-designed poverty. In besieged Gaza, very many Palestinians suffer malnutrition. Palestinian workers are not so much dependent on the Israeli economy as trapped by its continued viability. While we worry about the adverse effects of boycotts, many Palestinians are living their sixty-second year in refugee camps, and watch as the last slivers of their land are stolen. Beyond the domestic situation, Israel is an undeclared nuclear power which illegally occupies Lebanese and Syrian territory and is in contravention of tens of UN resolutions.
Like white South Africa, Jewish Israel considers itself to be part of the West. Its army and political positions are supported by the United States, and its economy is dependent on European trade. It is therefore very vulnerable to a Western boycott. Indeed, a Western boycott now seems to be the only peaceful way to attain some degree of justice and peace in Israel-Palestine. Bringing Israel into line would also dramatically defuse tensions between the West and an Islamic world enraged by Western double standards. I am very disappointed that the Co-op fails to see this. The Co-op is failing itself.
I won’t boycott the Co-op, because there is not yet any other High Street supermarket which has the imagination, values and courage to boycott Israel. I will of course boycott Israeli goods in the Co-op, and I’ll do my best to use small groceries instead of supermarkets.
Thanks again for your response. I do hope you will pass my comments upwards, and to the Co-op ethics committee, if there is such a thing.
Very best wishes
The Co-operative Group
Phone: 0800 068 6727