Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Co-op’s demonisation of Israel

On 28 April, the Cooperative Group voted to stop trading with Israeli companies that source some of their products from Jewish settlements in the occupied territories.  It is the first British supermarket chain to do so.

For those of us who support a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine and who oppose the building of settlements in the occupied West Bank, it is easy to dismiss this as irrelevant.  After all, it’s not like the Co-op voted to ban all Israeli products.  In fact the Co-op went out of their way to say precisely that. They’re not boycotting Israel.  They’re just boycotting companies that profit from the occupation.

But before dismissing the Co-op’s decision as no big deal, it’s worth having a look at what supporters of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad here in the UK are saying.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which supports a ‘one-state solution’ which would effectively destroy Israel, is ecstatic about the Co-op decision. ‘Fantastic news!’ they declare on their website. ‘This important development shows yet again the growing movement for solidarity with Palestine is having a concrete impact.’ They are certain that other supermarkets will follow the Co-op’s lead.

In the eyes of the PSC, this is a massive win. They’ve managed to extend the boycott of settlement goods to include produce grown inside of Israel proper. They’ve done this by tainting Israeli agricultural export companies as bodies which ‘profit from the occupation’. This new concept allows one to call for boycotts of all kinds of Israeli companies and institutions not directly linked to the settlements. It’s a patient, one-step-at-a-time campaign pointing towards a complete boycott of Israel.

The Guardian’s account made no attempt at objectivity. Referring to the pro-Hamas PSC as ‘Palestinian human rights campaigners’, they noted that this was ‘the first time a supermarket anywhere in the west had taken such a position’.  After quoting from several supporters of the boycott (but not the Jewish community in Britain), they concluded their account with a sneering reference to official Israeli policy. ‘Boycott campaigns against Israel are routinely denounced by Israeli officials as part of a drive to “delegitimise” the Jewish state,’ they wrote.  Routinely denounced.  Delegitimise – in quotation marks.

British Jews are deeply worried by this development, saying that ‘the Co-op has not fully understood the Jewish community’s serious concerns with an ever-increasing slippery-slope boycott policy.’

They should not be alone in making this argument.  The labour movement should be on their side.

One can and should oppose the policies of the rightwing Netanyahu-Mofaz government.  And that includes opposing the building of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. But to go from there to supporting a boycott of Israeli companies that may have ‘profited from the occupation’ is a step too far.

The PSC’s strategy is absolutely clear and they’re not hiding it. They are taking this one step at a time.

First, persuade groups like the Co-op to not sell settlement goods. Few would speak out against that.

Second, ban goods from companies which source some of their products from the settlements.  Again, few voices would be heard against that either.

The next step is to ban all Israeli products on the basis that the Israeli economy and society ‘profit from the occupation’.

The Jewish community is right to feel under assault. They should not, however, feel alone.

The democratic left should oppose BDS-by-stealth, and stand with the Jewish community, saying loud and clear – yes to peace, no to demonisation of Israel.


Eric Lee is founding editor of LabourStart and tweets @erictlee


Photo: momo

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Eric Lee

Eric Lee is founding editor of LabourStart, the news and campaigning website of the international trade union movement.


  • Eric, a clarification please. You wrote: “One can and should oppose the policies of the rightwing Netanyahu-Mofaz government. And that includes opposing the building of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.” Does that include their expansion or are you referring to new outposts/settlements?

  • One only has to look at what happened last week with an Israeli speaker being barred from an NHS event to see this slippery slope in action – and to understand why we have to be so careful.

    Last week Unison’s North West regional secretary, Kevan Nelson, said that Israeli negotiator Moti Cristal should not be permitted to speak at a Manchester NHS workshop, because he is Israeli! And Nelson got his way! Kevan referred to TUC policy when demanding that Moti’s invitation be revoked, and the seminar organisers rolled over.

    This is despite the TUC not having a boycott policy over Israeli individuals at all. TUC policy is to promote a consumer-led boycott of settlement goods and for its affiliated unions to review their links with Israeli organisations. This review policy is bad enough and is damaging the TUC’s ability to work with, and bring together, Israeli and Palestinian trade unionists – and if it wasn’t for groups like Trade Union Friends of Israel making the case against boycotts, the TUC would have gone further with its official policy.

    But now we have that very same policy being used to ban Israelis from working with NHS employees! And why have we heard nothing from the TUC stating that this isn’t their policy? If the TUC is to have a policy on the Middle East, and if it is to be at all genuine in its support for a two state solution, where are the TUC voices saying that their policy has been misused?

    Settlement building is clearly not helpful for achieving a two state solution – but we should not fool ourselves into thinking that all those who call for boycotts have a two state solution in mind. If they did, they wouldn’t have any objections to working with Israeli individuals. This is discrimination plain and simple, and it is Labour’s role to expose and oppose it.

  • I believe one of the four companies that the Co-op have decided not to trade with also bring produce from Gaza to the European market. As ever, a self-defeating move that does little for Palestinians and everything for the ego’s behind BDS that cast themselves as heroic figures in a struggle against great powers. The PSC and the BDS movement can take their small victories where they find them- trade between the UK and Israel was worth nearly four billion pounds last year, it’s going to keep growing, and a vocal minority won’t stop that.

  • Dear Eric, I can’t stand petty apartheid ! Pleaes advise Co-op that if they want to do things properly as such an August organisation like they are:
    1) Please turn off all computers and cash registers! I am sure there are INTEL chips inside. Designed in and perhaps made in Israel. I know some of the people who work there and they live in OCCUPIED Israel ( some may call this diputed land, Others the west bank of Jordan – wow that sounds strange ! )
    2 ) Please check that none of your Software, POS and IFRID or such comes from Israeli design.
    3) Please swich off your computer security system it was designed and made in Israel. Oh sorry forgot you have already turned off the computers as per point 1 !
    4 ) Please don’t accept any Credit cards, the ones where the security chips were made in Israel.
    5 ) Check your cameras and store security they most probably also were Israeli designs!

    I am sure there is plenty more but some countries try and make the world a better place !

    Damn I forgot sorry share holders we are not responsible for the losses we may incur.

  • You don’t need to be Norman Finkelstein to know why the BDS campaigners are screaming the Co op as a success. They’re failing – 10 years into this campaign and Israeli UK trade approaches £4bn.

    BDS resort to concert disrupting and cyber bullying, a sure way of never getting public support:

  • The Israeli government shows a complete lack of interest in progress towards a two state solution and continues to develope Israeli settlements within the West Bank : it’s no surprise therefore that there are moves to put pressure on the Israelis to come off the fence especially in view of the apparent laissez- faire
    attitude of the United States to this serious situation.

  • 1. Can you provide evidence that PSC is Pro-Hamas?
    2. How is supporting international law tantamount to deligitimization?
    3. There’s already an official UK government backed boycott of Gaza, care to denounce it as well or does the deligitimization of Palestinians not figure into your moral calculus?
    4. Given that Israel has systematically refused to comply with international law what other tactics would you propose as more effective?
    5. Why are you ignoring the voices of Jewish progressives in the UK who support BDS? More importantly why ignore the voices of Palestinian trade unions and civil society that support the campaign as a non-violent means of showing solidarity with their struggle for self-determination and equality?

  • I’m on the LFI mailing list and I really can’t understand what the fuss is all about.

    Your point “The next step is to ban all Israeli products” is a massive leap in logic that defies even the simplest questioning. There’s a lot of populist bollocks about – and then there’s outrageous scaremongering like this. If the pro-peace, two-state “friends of Israel” movement could be seen to embrace steps taken to pressurise the Israeli government over continued illegal settlements which is what the Co-Op’s moves *are* doing, then it might be treated with a bit more credibility and be seen as genuinely progressive; rather than simply serving another’s special interests.

    “Disappointed” doesn’t begin to describe how I feel reading this.

  • An unusual article that doesn’t fall into the usual “Israel bad, Palestinians good” trap that many fall into. With regards to the comments from “Guest”, boycotts are not international law. Through the EU and the UNRWA (the only refugee group to have their own UN body) billions are being put into Gaza.

    With regards to Israel, a prolonging of the conflict needs to be avoided. Therefore, one-sided dealings with the region serve to exacerbate the situation. One should at least do more about Iran’s influence.

    Or one could just make Israel to blame for everything.

  • Let me add, Utter Tosh to my preceding statment. If The labour movemnbet wants to take advantage of opposition to the present govt, it will need to understand where to find that support. It is not to be found writing the aforementioned bilge.

  • Perhaps Eric Lee could have mentioned that he served as an Israeli soldier in the West Bank protecting the the settlements and enforcing an illegal and oppressive occupation.

    Good for the Co-op and shame on those who criticise it.

  • Thanks for your unequivocal article! Thanks to people like you who guard against the demonization of Israel! Well done. I hope your comments are widely read to clarify this issue.

  • I’m all for a 2 state solution, but this cannot happen until there is one unified Palestinian people. How do people expect Israel to negotiate until this happens, then at least both parties can come to the table, so it doesnt end up being a 3 state solution.

    As for the Co Op, they should stick to what they do as a business rather than get involved in politics. What they are actually doing is stirring anti-semitism towards Israel and Jews, for those of you who dont know this there is a difference between the 2.

    95% of Israeli’s want peace and for the TUC to get involved in banning one Israeli from an event when they have no idea of what there views are, is like banning a German because of the Nazi’s.

    I think common sense needs to prevail in certain situations.

  • “British Jews are deeply worried by this development, saying that ‘the Co-op has not fully understood the Jewish community’s serious concerns with an ever-increasing slippery-slope boycott policy.’”

    It would be helpful if you could clarify where this quote came from and how you come to class the speaker as representative of British Jews?

  • And the boycott of Israeli goods from that region helps the 77,000 palestinian workers how? Why no boycott of Russia (Chechnya) or China (Tibet) or Turkey (slaughtering of the Kurds) or is it another bash Israel campaign?

  • Absolutely correct for the Coop to boycott settlement goods. The settlements are illegal in international law – so selling goods from them is illegal.

    The 750,000 illegal Israel settlers on the W. Bank (increasing by 6% per year) are progressively making life impossible for the Palestinians.

    Israel takes 89% of W. Bank water (and is now denying many Palestinian communities even access to their own wells, on which they are totally dependent for life). The 150,000 Palestinians in Area C (62% of the W. Bank; ‘reduced’ from 300,000 Palestinians in 1967) are being progressively expelled (8 villages housing 1,500 Palestinians in the South Hebron hills destroyed last week).

    The ultimate intention of the Israeli government is clearly the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians – as evidenced by the fact that maps in Israeli schoolbooks show all the Occupied Territories as part of Israel (Palestine is literally wiped off the map).

    Those who call for a settlement boycott work closely with Israeli individuals and human rights groups to try and stop this happening.

  • If, as you claim the aim of the PSC is indeed a step by step campaign, I see no problem with this. You claim to support a two state solution, whilst Israeli government policy historically as well as at present seems to be to scupper such a solution by its continued colonisation of Palestinian land. The aim of sanctions against Israel (whether against settlement produce or indeed Israel proper), is to apply pressure on Israel to change its behaviour. There is nothing wrong with such an aim. It seems to me that if Israel were to observe international law, everyone can then move on and apply themselves to living in peace side by side. Your attempt to smear PSC by linking it to Hamas misses the point. Israel have effective power and control in Palestine, and so the solution to the Israeli/Palestine problem lies very much within the Israeli government.

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