The media went into overdrive last week when a food co-op in Brooklyn voted on whether or not to continue to stock Israeli products on its shelves. Rarely has so much been written about so little. Under consideration were five products, including couscous, hummus and pesto, in a store that carries thousands of food items.
“Astonishing reportorial resources devoted to Park Slope Food Coop meeting,” one journalism monitor, Media Wire, declared.
All the New York news outlets, including The New York Times and The Daily News and WPIX covered it, but it also found its way into the Wall Street Journal, national magazines like The Atlantic and The Nation, and into the foreign press. It was news in Israel and in England, with a special feature story in The Guardian. Even the fake news program The Daily Show weighed in with “correspondent” Samantha Bee intoning: “You can see the toll it’s taken on the faces pushing the $1,000 strollers all over this region.”
My purpose is not to rehash the story yet again (but it is worth noting that the boycott resolution failed by a wide margin). Rather, I’d like to examine why this story was a story at all. Why did the decision of one food co-op in Brooklyn become international news? Here are some reasons:
► News in New York inevitably gets more coverage than news anywhere else. “Eighty-seven percent of New York’s working journalists live in Park Slope,” wrote Brian Braiker of The Guardian in an obvious exaggeration. (Everyone knows that 87 percent of journalists live on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.) But the point of New York amplification is well taken.
► News from Israel gets more coverage. Like the little Park Slope Food Co-op, Israel’s every move is scrutinized. In fact, Israel’s every thought is scrutinized, with the big question being, “Will Israel bomb Iran?”
► Politicians weighed in. “I certainly am adamantly opposed to boycotting Israeli products,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg declared. “Israel is a very important ally of America. We shouldn’t forget that.” And it wasn’t only the Jewish politicians, like Bloomberg and Sen. Charles Schumer. Mayoral hopefuls Christine Quinn and Bill de Blasio also publicly opposed the boycott.
► Thanks, in part, to Peter Beinart BDS is back in the news. BDS stands for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, three things that some think will compel the Israeli government to change its policies toward Palestinians and withdraw from the occupied territories.
Beinart’s twist on the BDS movement, as he explained in a recent op-ed piece in The Times, is that supporters of Israel upset over the occupation should join a limited BDS movement that would boycott items made in the territories. He called it “Zionist BDS.” The article was strategically published on the eve of the release of Beinart’s new book “The Crisis of Zionism” and just days before a book party to celebrate its publication at the J Street convention in Washington.
While his proposal was widely repudiated by the pro-Israel camp (and even by the head of J Street), Beinart did give BDS, whether limited or not, a measure of legitimacy as a tool to pressure Israel. But the rejection of his idea, coupled with the rejection of the Park Slope initiative, seems to be a serious setback for the BDS movement.
Not everyone would agree. Kiera Feldman, writing in The Nation the day after the Park Slope vote, declared the mere fact that the debate was held was “a symbolic victory for the pro-boycott camp.”
She concluded: “It didn’t matter which way the vote went last night, because, as soon as this debate erupted in Park Slope, the boycotters had already won.”
I think it is difficult to find a victory in all this for the BDS folks. The vote, after all, was 1,005 against the boycott and 653 voting in favor. The only smart thing that the BDS advocates did was to wage their fight on a very public stage, Park Slope, where they got oodles of publicity. BDS supporters should be careful not to confuse publicity with victory. They lost. Big time.