The Olympia Grocery Store at the Center of the Israeli-Palestinian Debate

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Yohanna Kinberg says that the last boycott taken up by the Olympia Food Co-op, the grocery store where she's a member, happened decades ago, when it banned sugar. The uproar at the time, she says, was enough to reinstate the sweet stuff. But that fight pales in comparison to the strife Kinberg sees today, now that her Co-op has put itself front and center into an international debate by becoming the first grocery store in the country to ban all goods from Israel*.

"It's tearing our community apart," she says.

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Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu supports the Co-op's boycott.
Kinberg is one of a handful of the Co-op's 15,000 members to denounce the boycott enacted two weeks ago, a stance that pits her not only against the people who share her love for reasonably priced bulgur wheat, but also against a motley crew of activists, including South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who praised the Co-op for joining "a growing worldwide support by non-violent tangible acts the Palestinian struggle for justice and self-determination."

The problem, says Kinberg, is that not only did her fellow Co-op members insert the complicated politics of an intractable debate into the relatively apolitical world of grocery shopping, they also did it without following their own rules. According to her, the board failed to get a consensus from its 80-some staff members, a requirement of its own by-laws. (The Co-op has thus far failed to return a phone call.)

On a more personal level, she says, it also did a crappy job of informing its members of the controversy to come.

"I live within walking distance of the Co-op," says Kinberg, "But I had to find out about the boycott from a blog."

Kinberg is also upset that the issue of banning Israeli goods didn't bubble up naturally from the Co-op's pool of left-center politics. Instead, she says the board was persuaded by BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions), an international advocacy group that's worked to push similar boycotts at co-ops in Bellingham, Port Townshend and Seattle, where Capitol Hill's Madison Market took up the issue in committee, but backed off after a deluge of complaints from both sides hipped it to the coming divisiveness should it take up a boycott.

The language of the boycott also makes the likelihood of Kinberg getting her Israeli ice cream bars back anytime soon unlikely: the ban won't end until "Israel ends its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantles the Wall." (Translation: Don't hold your breath.)

Kinberg says she hopes to have 100-150 protesters joining her outside the Co-op this afternoon. But most of all, she just wants her old grocery store back.

"It's extremely painful because you're seeing your friends and neighbors and jogging partner walking in to buy their organic produce while you're protesting," she says. "It's just weird."

*Joe Eskenazi, the news blogger for our sister site in San Francisco, says this is far from the first time a co-op has banned the sale of Jewish goods.

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