Sep 292016

The Co-operative Group

I was elected to the Members’ Council of the Co-operative Group (the Co-op) on 5th May. In case you are not aware of it, the Co-operative Group and the Co-operative Party (not the same thing) has adopted a policy of boycotting suppliers that have any dealings with any Israeli businesses operating beyond the “Green Line”. This discriminatory resolution, that is not applied to any goods other than those from Israel, will no doubt be strengthened by the recent UN Security Council resolution condemning the “settlements” which is an invitation to greater Palestinian intransigence. The truth is that 80 per cent of the world is ruled by dictators who will naturally side with other dictators (such as the Fatah dictatorship in Palestine and the Hamas dictatorship in Gaza) and with countries that are not members of any powerful bloc (such as the Arab bloc). Add to this the fact that most western countries are heavily indebted to the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia, and it is obvious where their power lies. The latest anti-Israel resolution by the United Nations can be equated to the “Zionism is racism” resolution also passed by the UN to its eternal shame. Meanwhile, the slaughter of innocent civilians continues unchecked in Syria and the Yemen. Let us remember that these are civil wars! What the Arabs would do to the Israelis if they got a chance does not bear thinking about.

The move to ban Israeli produce in the Cooperative Party and the Cooperative Movement was initiated by a very few members who are on the fringes of the Party, but due to the ignorance of members (fuelled by the lies told by the BBC in particular) it is maintained. Israel does not need the Cooperative Movement, the goods boycotted are estimated to amount to a paltry £350,000 a year, when Israel’s exports to the UK can be counted in the billions of pounds. It is the Co-operative Group that needs Israel, not the other way around. Israel was founded on co-operation and co-operatives, more than any other country in the world. It is all very well for people in the Co-op to bleat on about Mondragon and the few European co-operatives, there is not a major enterprise in Israel that was not founded as a co-operative, to say nothing of the kibbutzim and moshavim.

A potted history of the Co-operative Movement

The Co-operative movement that became a sister party to the Labour Party began in 1844 when a group of men in Rochdale decided that the local shops were overcharging for their goods. These men decided to set up a Co-operative shop. From there, the movement mushroomed until it had shops and even department stores, as well as farms, pharmacies and funeral services, all over the United Kingdom, to say nothing of the bank, one of its most lucrative enterprises.

In 2013, a scandal tainted the Co-operative Bank when it was discovered that there was a massive shortfall in its funds, apparently mainly the fault of the Rev. Paul Flowers, then the chairman and a director of the Co-operative Bank. The Co-operative Wholesale Society suffered losses in the millions of pounds, that resulted in its entire reorganisation, including the sale of its pharmacies (which never boycotted Israeli pharmaceuticals otherwise their shelves would have been empty!) and most of the Bank (the Co-operative Society still owns 10%).

The Co-operative Wholesale Society has gradually recovered thanks to excellent new management. It has now adopted a policy of opening mini-supermarkets in every postcode in the United Kingdom, backed by a massive advertising campaign, so the Co-op should be a familiar sight to every shopper. What may not be so well-known is that the Co-op minimarkets operate an effective boycott of agricultural produce from Israel, the only nationwide British retail chain to do so. This was the initiative of a very few activists (it always is!) one of whom was none other than the Rev. Paul Flowers. He has gone, of course, but there are a couple of people left who encourage the boycott to remain in place “on moral grounds” as they put it.One of them at least was precluded from standing for election to the Members’ Council due to his shady past, which says a lot about the sort of people advocating the boycott.

Thanks to these activists, the Co-op claims that “Since 2009, The Co-operative Group has operated a Human Rights and Trade Policy, which establishes the exceptional circumstances under which we will withdraw all trade from a particular state, area or settlement. One such circumstance is where there is a broad international consensus that the status of a settlement is illegal. There are only two examples of such illegal areas: the Israeli settlements in the Palestinian Occupied Territories and the Moroccan settlements in Western Sahara”.

In practice, this means that the boycott is applied to the four major Israeli exporters of agricultural produce including Agrexco and Mahedrin. These Israeli companies export produce from all over the land and do not discriminate between farms in Israel post-1948 or Israel post-1967 or Judaea and Samaria, nor do they discriminate between Jewish and Arab farmers, both inside and outside Israel inside the Green Line. The Co-op continues to refer to “illegal settlements” as if these and the Western Sahara (included “for balance” no doubt) were the only disputed territories in the world! And even in relation to Western Sahara, the Co-op does not in fact boycott suppliers that have dealings with the Moroccan “settlements” – in reality the only target of this policy is Israel. The fact that Israel is singled out in this way, despite the fact that all over the world there are countries and regions whose sovereignty is in dispute and who are allowed to export their goods with impunity, says a great deal for the people who are behind this discriminatory, and even racist, boycott.