Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Challenging the Co-op’s boycott policy

Following the scandal that hit the Co-operative Bank last year, the Co-op Group, the UK’s largest mutual enterprise, has changed its senior management. The new management have initiated a large-scale listening exercise, asking people ‘for their views on the future of the Group and the big issues facing communities across the UK’. Organised through YouGov, the survey is online here. Any potential customer over 16 can complete it.

Labour and Co-operative party activists are understandably primarily focused on the troubling questions buried in the survey that seem to be hinting at and rather unsubtly leading people towards answers that would sever the Co-op Group’s link with and funding of the Co-op party and the Labour party. For instance, the survey asks people if they would rather that the political donations were used to cut prices in the shops, without providing any context about the values and objectives of the Co-op movement and how the Co-op party promotes these in councils and in parliament. As a Co-op party member I’ve used the survey to express my opposition to such a move, which looks like a fairly blatant attempt to provide ‘cover’ for the Group basically destroying the Co-op party by stopping funding it.

But the survey is also of interest to progressive supporters of Israel who support a negotiated two-state solution to the Middle East conflict and oppose the campaign to boycott and delegitimise Israel.

The survey gives us a chance to protest against the Co-op’s boycott policy.

In 2012 the Co-op Group introduced a policy of boycotting all the produce from four Israeli agricultural export companies. They said this was because these companies source some produce from Israeli settlements in the West Bank, but the boycott extends to anything the companies sell, most of which is produced inside the pre-1967 green line.

The Co-op’s human rights and trade policy seems specifically drafted to target Israel, because it focuses on issues around settlements and disputed territory. The only other produce they boycott is from Moroccan-occupied western Sahara. They do not have a boycott policy or take any other action against regimes where extreme human rights violations are taking place such as North Korea, Syria, Iran, China or Saudi Arabia.

There are two places in the survey where supporters of Israel have an opportunity to reopen the question of the Co-op’s boycott policy.

Most of the questions – and there are many of them – are general ones, but about ten questions in, the survey asks:

‘What, if anything, should the Co-operative do to encourage more people to shop with it?’

If you oppose the boycott you can use this text box to say that you want the Co-op to drop their boycott of four Israeli companies and that this policy is discouraging people who support Israel from shopping with them. There is space to elaborate and explain why you dislike the policy.

For me this includes the fact that boycotts don’t help bring peace as they divide people rather than bringing them together. The policy runs against cooperative values.

The policy is discriminatory because it singles out Israel, the world’s only Jewish state, but ignores countries where there are extreme human rights abuses. Israel is a democracy with a proud history of co-operatives including the kibbutz movement, so it is a bizarre target for a boycott by the Co-op.

The boycott policy is a clumsy and crass intervention in a complex conflict and I think it is extremely unhelpful for the Co-op to be picking sides in this way.

Furthermore, I don’t believe the Co-op should associate itself with the anti-Israel boycott movement as the boycott is promoted by extremists who object to Israel’s existence as a Jewish state, including antisemites. The long history of antisemitic boycotts of Jewish businesses makes it a particularly offensive tactic to use against Israel.

If it wants to get involved in the Middle East conflict, the Co-op should take constructive action instead, which would help peace, instead of demonising and boycotting one side. For example, it could support joint projects that involve Israeli and Palestinian co-ops working closer together, or help with funding and expertise to build up the co-operative sector in the Palestinian economy. The Co-op could support groups like One Voice, the campaign for peace and a two state solution, which organises amongst both Israelis and Palestinians. It could encourage and support the Israeli and Palestinian Co-op movements in any work they are doing that promotes coexistence and peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

On the next page of the survey it asks ‘Which three of these, if any, would be most likely to make you shop with the Co-operative food more often?’ I ticked ‘Other’ and wrote ‘Dropping the Israel boycott policy’.

Please do let the Co-op know how you feel about their negative stance towards Israel. You can find the survey here.


Luke Akehurst is the director of We Believe in Israel, a UK network of supporters of Israel and a negotiated two-state solution


Photo: Takver

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Luke Akehurst

is director of We Believe in Israel and a former member of Labour's National Executive Committee


  • Thanks so much for this article, Luke. It should be realised that, however democratic the Coop Party pretends to be, there are certain movers and shakers within it who follow their own agenda and force it on others. The conduct of the Cooperative Party is all the more ironic when you consider that Israel was the great pioneer of cooperatives, both in the form of collective farms (kibbutzim, moshavim) and in the form of collective enterprises such as the bus company Egged and the dairy company Tnuva. It is interesting to see how these cooperatives have come under pressure, which have folded (several kibbutzim) and which are still going strong and why. The whole cooperative movement in the UK has a lot to learn from Israel, instead it has turned its back on the Jewish state, and this is, in my view, for racist, bigotted reasons, hardly the kind of conduct one would expect from a cooperative movement.

  • What if you’re a Paid up Co-Op and Labour party member who believes that until Israel’s human rights issues are dealt with, there should be a boycott?

  • The arguments presented in Luke Akehurst’s piece are not consistent. There will be a number of honourable positions on Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and presumably Golan heights as well.

    My view is that boycotts do work as they did for South Africa. It is honourable to have a boycott of companies which exploit the labour of occupied territories. North Korea, Syria, Iran, China and Saudia Arabia are sovereign states whereas the West Bank is not.

    North Korea, Syria, Iran, China or Saudi Arabia
    North Korea, Syria, Iran, China or Saudi Arabia
    A “two state solution” is not sustainable because the violent extremists in Israel and the neighbouring states would always try to change the situation. I believe that the only viable “solution” is a one state one, that is including Israel and neighbouring areas, which is democratic in the fullest sense, fully accepting of diversity and peaceful.

    It would certainly take longer to negotiate than a two state one but it would help to bring peace to the region.

    PS: Why does Progress use a USA English spelling checker?

  • Good article Luke. This isn’t about Palestinian rights it’s just pure anti-semitism. I am from Tower Hamlets but live in Spain. I have numerous incidents from estate agent friends of stories of the Palestinian leadership living the high life in multi million Euro villas and the night clubs of the Costa del Sol.

    I have personally seen fortunes being squandered on champagne in Marbella Yacht Club by these people with their private security guards and Eastern European lady friends. The Palestinian people have been kept in the refugee camps deliberately when a fraction of the money wasted on wars against Israel could have resettled them.

    A friend who lives in Norther Cyprus reports the same thing except with massive gambling thrown in as well.

  • Why do people defending Israel always slate the Palestinian leadership? They are a bunch of duplicitous philandering, parasitic, anti-democratic scum… But everybody knows that. And it doesn’t excuse Israel’s behaviour.

  • Progress has always been a very pro israel group and like so many of their policies completely out of step with today’s Labour party. The nomalisation Luke promotes is straight out of the Isralali propaganda’s handbook. As for One Voice a well known poodle of the Israeli state, paid to go around the world and say, lets all hold hands and cuddle and everything will be ok. The boycots will continue, why? Because they are working. And this article just proves the point, orginisations like I Believe In Israel (with their dubious funding record) have been set up to combat the success of BDS. So Luke continue with your hard work but like all those who supported war criminals, you are destined to fail.

  • I wonder who pays for the anti israeli propoganda? Could it be oil money from some oft the world’s most oppressive and undemocratic states most of which seem to treat the Palestinian “guest” workers a hell of a lot worse than say, Sodastream!

  • I see you are part of a UK network of supporters of Israel and a negotiated two-state solution. In 10 years of interest in and visiting Israel/Palestine, I have seen no evidence whatever that Israel wants a negotiated two state solution. On the contrary it has virtually destroyed such an outcome by its incessant policy of extending settlements in the West Bank, the heart of a putative Palestinian state. The BDS campaign is a last ditch campaign to persuade Israel to change its settlement and other policies and arises from desperation that it will ever do so. It is not anti-Israel: noone I know or am in contact with is anti-the state of Israel per se, just against Israeli policies which in their effect on Palestinians are quite outrageous and would be subject to censure by the international community if perpetrated by any other state. The Coop is to be congratulated for boycotting certain lines of Israeli produce.

  • Luke my friend you undermine your own and Israel’s position with your lobbying – its is the perception that Israel is organising a subtle (or in this case not so subtle) well funded campaign to change public opinion that most undermines the cause and makes people start supporting the Palestinians who have no powerful advocates.

  • I’m sure most people who shop in the Co-op or use its Pharmacy or Funeral services will wonder quite what this discussion has to do with the business of running a co-op.

  • I think you should have look at the Israel haters’ own language beforeyou accuse any off the opponents of (excessive) “invective”!

  • The Co-operative Movement should desist from getting involved in political turmoils. The cardinal principle of co-operatives is mutual self help amongst co-operatives both nationally and internationally. To boycott a sister co-operative is a tear in the very fabric of this socio economic movement. The UK Co-operatives should stop becoming the tools of politicians and those out to gain something from creating such discord. The brotherhood of the International Cooperative Movement should always remain invi9olate.

  • Rubbish. Israel is not a democracy it is an apartheid state says Nelson Mandela they treat Palestinians as inferior and breach their human rights coop and all the other retailers should boycott all apartheid Israeli goods just as we did with south afric

  • Israel uses funds from purchased Israeli products to kill and commit war crimes such as throw bombs at even kids/babies, fire at civilians, knock people over with their tanks, use phosphorous gas, block ambulances, put checkpoints up all around Gaza, place a wall around Gaza to ensure there is no place of refuge for the Palestinians whilst they are bombed at etc, bomb hospitals etc. The numbers of deaths/casualties speak for themself, along with the bloodied pics we see on the internet of kids with half of their head gone etc from having a bomb intentionally aimed at them by Israel. So, we should all have a heart and boycott Israel; even some Jews are against the zionists acts towards the Palestinians. Not because we are anti-Israeli but because of the way the zionist government there are behaving. The Co-op should be thanked for boycotting such brutality. And anyone with a heart regardless of faith should agree.

  • the coop would be stupid to drop the boycott – public opinion is running against the terrorist state of israel…

  • I was planning to change my and my family banking to Co-op as I was in Israel and learned about Cooperatives and etc from a activist Israeli friend, only to read that, Co-op must be joking right?! you single out one country to boycott, that looks like pretty bigotry for me, so not support Co-op UK anymore, pity that they suppose to concentrate in cooperativism and they get political involved( even though Co-op claims to be political neutral) and discriminate. There are many more countries in the world that should be way first in their list than Israel.

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