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Co-op Should Remain Neutral

UCD Law School Professor Alan Brownstein describes why the Coop should remain politically neutral, in an editorial from the Davis Enterprise on March 4, 2010.

Co-op should remain neutral
By Alan Brownstein
March 4th, 2010

Special to The Enterprise

Recent letters and articles in The Enterprise have debated the merits of a proposed resolution to the Davis Food Cooperative requiring the Co-op to boycott Israeli products. I oppose this anti-Israel boycott on substantive grounds for the same reasons expressed by other Davis residents.

The boycott is a biased and one-sided response to a complex conflict. Its goal is not a peaceful solution to that conflict, but rather the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state.

There is another reason why this boycott and others like it should be decisively rejected by the Co-op and its patrons. Davis has more than its share of organizations that espouse particular religious or political points of view. There is absolutely nothing wrong with these organizations. I'm a member of several of them.

If Davis is going to remain a community where people of different political and religious viewpoints can live and work together, however, it also needs other kinds of organizations. It needs neutral places and activities where Davis residents who disagree about politics, religion and other matters can meet and interact with each other as people — not as Democrats or Republicans, leftists or rightists, or supporters or opponents of Israel.

These neutral institutions serve an incredibly important community function. They are places where people can focus on the daily pursuits of their lives: educating their children, enjoying recreational activities, and shopping for their families — without regard to the political and religious barriers that separate us in other organizational settings.

When we mix and mingle in these neutral environments, we learn to recognize our common humanity. Sitting together with other parents at PTA meetings, watching and cheering our children play soccer, and being members and patrons of places like the Davis Food Co-op helps us to dispel stereotypes about each other and to begin to respect those with whom we disagree on political or religious matters.

Politicizing neutral institutions destroys this source of community and opportunity for interaction. When organizations like the Food Co-op adopt positions on divisive political issues, they are no longer really open to everyone. No one joins or continues to support organizations espousing political positions he or she abhors.

If the Davis Food Co-op transforms itself into the Davis Anti-Israel Co-op by adopting the boycott resolution, it will no longer serve the positive community function it currently provides. Many Jewish residents of Davis who have been Co-op members for years will resign from the Co-op. Other Davis residents who support the existence of a Jewish homeland also will leave. Current Co-op members who believe there are two sides to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and reject the demonization of either side will leave as well. That result will be bad for the Co-op and bad for our city.

The response of the boycott's proponents to this obvious and inevitable consequence of their proposal can only be described as Orwellian. They not only refuse to admit that their proposal will drive members away from the Co-op. Instead, they condemn those of us who reject their militant anti-Israel position as bullies because we will refuse to support an organization that adopts political positions we emphatically oppose.

The truth, of course, is quite different. If the Co-op adopts divisive political positions, its membership will fragment. Calling attention to that reality isn't bullying. It simply acknowledges the painful consequences that occur when previously open communal organizations take sides on political controversies on which their members and patrons disagree.

Organizations like the Davis Food Co-op are worth protecting and preserving. We can do that by renouncing this boycott and other attempts to change the Co-op into a political weapon to be fought over and captured by different ideological factions in our community.

— Alan Brownstein of Davis is a professor of constitutional law at the UC Davis School of Law and vice president of Congregation Bet Haverim. He is writing as an individual, not as a representative of either institution.

This site provided with the assistance of the Davis Community Network.