Robin Yassin-Kassab

Letter to the Co-op

with 4 comments

I wrote to the Co-op to ask them to stop stocking Israeli goods. Their reply is below, followed by my reply to their reply. Readers, please feel free to adapt my letter, and send your own.

Thank you for your enquiry about the Co-operative’s stance on stocking products sourced from Israel.

We view developments in Israel with some concern, sharing those of many others.  In general though, it is not our policy to support boycotts because of the adverse impact they can have on individuals and communities not directly involved and in the case of Israel, the many Palestinian workers dependent on the Israeli economy.

Therefore we continue to trade with Israel, mainly sourcing fresh produce to provide a continuity of high-quality product and to maintain year round supplies.  However, labelling to ensure that our customers have the information necessary to enable them to make an informed purchasing choice, is a key aspect of our Responsible Retailing policy, which includes clearly indicating the country of origin on pack. All Co-operative brand products are clearly labelled with the country of origin.  Additionally all suppliers of own brand products are included within the scope of our sound sourcing programme; this addresses workplace issues including fair treatment and discrimination, complementing the broader political dialogue in the region.

The Co-operative does not source any own brand primary produce from illegal West Bank settlements.  All Co-operative brand suppliers are aware of our position on the occupied territories and have given us an undertaking that any products supplied to us by them are not sourced from this region.

In addition, we carry out traceability audits to confirm product origins on an ongoing basis.  We have also contracted an external third party body to verify the accuracy of sourcing statements from our supply base.

However, we do recognise that there may be some legitimate Palestinian-owned businesses which want to export their products to the UK market. The measures which are outlined above, by which the integrity of our supplies can be confirmed, enable them to do this in a way which ensures their legitimacy.

On this point, I am pleased to confirm that The Co-operative has introduced to the UK the first Fairtrade MARK product to come out of Palestine – a Fairtrade olive oil.  We were the first UK supermarket to list this unique product.

I trust that this information has helped to clarify our position on these matters, and would like to thank you once again for the interest you have shown in our activities.

And my reply:


Thank you very much for your response. I must say it was rather disappointing, coming from the Co-operative with its history of supporting struggles for justice.

If you cast your mind back twenty years you will remember the ultimately successful boycott campaign against apartheid South Africa. I believe the Co-op supported the boycott tactic in that instance. At the time Mrs Thatcher and Ronald Reagan argued against boycott for precisely the reasons you use – the adverse effect on people not directly involved, and on the victims themselves. This was a patronising line to say the least, as black South Africans themselves had asked for the boycott. Today, a huge coalition of Palestinian civil society organisations have called for a boycott of Israel, and they are joined by a few Israeli Jews who can see that a continuation of the status quo will result in an epic disaster for all concerned, Jews, Westerners, and Arabs.

Perhaps you think my comparison with apartheid South Africa is far fetched. Archbishop Desmond Tutu says the situation in Palestine-Israel is “worse” than South African apartheid. Nelson Mandela says “our freedom will not be complete until the Palestinians are free.” I have been to the West Bank recently, and I can confirm that a system of pass laws in in place to rival and even exceed apartheid South Africa. Very many Palestinians (in Israel proper – where Palestinians can be citizens but not nationals of the state – as well as in the territories occupied in 1967) live in deliberately-designed poverty. In besieged Gaza, very many Palestinians suffer malnutrition. Palestinian workers are not so much dependent on the Israeli economy as trapped by its continued viability. While we worry about the adverse effects of boycotts, many Palestinians are living their sixty-second year in refugee camps, and watch as the last slivers of their land are stolen. Beyond the domestic situation, Israel is an undeclared nuclear power which illegally occupies Lebanese and Syrian territory and is in contravention of tens of UN resolutions.

Like white South Africa, Jewish Israel considers itself to be part of the West. Its army and political positions are supported by the United States, and its economy is dependent on European trade. It is therefore very vulnerable to a Western boycott. Indeed, a Western boycott now seems to be the only peaceful way to attain some degree of justice and peace in Israel-Palestine. Bringing Israel into line would also dramatically defuse tensions between the West and an Islamic world enraged by Western double standards. I am very disappointed that the Co-op fails to see this. The Co-op is failing itself.

I won’t boycott the Co-op, because there is not yet any other High Street supermarket which has the imagination, values and courage to boycott Israel. I will of course boycott Israeli goods in the Co-op, and I’ll do my best to use small groceries instead of supermarkets.

Thanks again for your response. I do hope you will pass my comments upwards, and to the Co-op ethics committee, if there is such a thing.

Very best wishes

Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

November 9, 2010 at 5:53 pm

Posted in Palestine

4 Responses

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  1. Write to:

    The Co-operative Group
    Customer Relations
    Freepost MR9473
    M4 8BA


    Email: customer.relations@co-op.co.uk


    Phone: 0800 068 6727

    Robin Yassin-Kassab

    November 9, 2010 at 6:20 pm

  2. over at http://www.pulsemedia.org Guiltyfeat commented, in response to this letter:

    As an Israeli, I struggle every day with my government’s treatment of Palestinians and it’s continued belligerent support of illegal settlements in the West Bank.

    I support calls to boycott products that come from illegal settlements, but I cannot extrapolate that logic to goods produced in Israel. Given that 20% of Israel’s population is not Jewish and that no single party has ever come close to a parliamentary majority, I believe that a blanket boycott indiscriminately attempts to punish many of the elements that are entirely sympathetic to your aims. It shows a profound misunderstanding of the makeup and desires of Greater Israel. The desire to treat all Israel as one seems naive and a little racist.

    I was particularly perplexed by this claim of yours: “Palestinian workers are not so much dependent on the Israeli economy as trapped by its continued viability.” No one in their right minds can imagine that the Palestinian economy can flourish only when the Israeli economy has failed.

    The truth is I don’t believe that the BDS movement has any popular support beyond the kinds of people who visit boards like this, but if it ever was to catch on, I think the negative impact on Israel’s ability to negotiate with our Palestinian counterparts would be ruinous for all.

    and I replied:

    Thanks for your comment, Guilty Feat (perhaps an apt name)

    It’s not just me calling for a boycott of the Zionist state. It’s a wide coalition of Palestinian groups, some Palestinian-Israelis, and anti-zionist Israeli Jews.

    I support a boycott of Israel, not just the settlements, for various reasons. The settlements are one aspect of the occupation. There are many other aspects. The entire state of Israel is doing the occupying (although some Israeli citizens may disagree with state policy). There’s also the ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem. There’s also the refusal to make amends for the mass ethnic cleansing of 1947/1948. There’s also the fact that ‘Israel proper’ has many characteristics of an apartheid state. There’s also the massacres in Gaza and the siege of that prison territory. There’s also the attack on Lebanon and the destruction of its infrastructure. There’s also the occasional attacks on Syria. Also, fundamentally, there’s the fact that the two-state solution is an impossibility and has never really been ojn the table anyway. I second Kate’s disgust at your comment on Israel’s ‘ability to negotiate’. Israel has never negotiated in seriousness on either a one-state democrratic solution or a two-state solution to the conflict. Why? Because of the vast power imbalance between the two sides. Boycott is the only peaceful way I can think of (if it continues to develop) to change the power balance and thus to really bring Israeli Jews to the table.

    I think from your tone that you are genuine and really trying to think this through. I realise that my ideas will seem strange to you, since you live in the Zionist state and are surrounded by its media, military and general set of assumptions. But continue thinking and reading and talking to your Palestinian neighbours, on the West Bank and in Israel, and it’s possible you’ll begin to see what I’m talking about. After all, many highly intelligent, well-informed and principled Israeli Jews (Pappe, Sand, Halper, our own Tali, etc) and very many more non-Israeli Jews (best represented by Phil Weiss) have come to the same conclusions that I do.

    and Kate Bates said:

    “truth is I don’t believe that the BDS movement has any popular support beyond the kinds of people who visit boards like this, but if it ever was to catch on, I think the negative impact on Israel’s ability to negotiate with our Palestinian counterparts would be ruinous for all”

    Where have you been & what do you read?

    The boycott is picking up momentum & I read of success after success. From Caterpillar halting the sale of dozers that zionists use to demolish homes, ruin cultivated land, and murder.

    I suppose you haven’t heard of longshore men in California refusing to unload Israeli ships.

    Worldwide people of ethics are disgusted at the apartheid stench coming from the Holy Land.

    How many olive trees have you personally destroyed?
    How many children have you maimed or killed?
    When you did your military service how many Americans did you kill? How many women?
    Do you wear the t-shirts that say “one shot 2 kills”?
    Do you know any of the murderers of the humanitarians on Mavi Marmara?

    I believe the bds movement is snowballing & to throw that bit in about poor plucky little Israel getting hurt & that will make them less likely to negotiate…that is outrageous…..Israel to my knowledge has never been serious about seeking peace.

    There is an offer on the table since 2002 called the Saudi Initiative that would normalize relations between Israell & its’ neighbors for a return to ’67 borders…………
    Israel shows no interest.

    Why won’t Israel declare borders? Not done stealing other folks land yet?

    Robin Yassin-Kassab

    November 15, 2010 at 9:36 pm

  3. I joined the Co-op Bank specifically because of their ethical banking code and their refusal to do business with anybody, corporate or otherwise, whose interests broke this code.
    I wrote to Co-op retail, which the whole of my family patronise, on the issue of my local shop stocking peppers from Israel and received exactly same letter as above in reply.
    I am not satisfied with their response either but feel able to agree with Robin’s response. I shall further remonstrate with Co-op HQ.
    In general I totally support Kate’s comments: never forget Burke’s words, “Good men only need to stand by and do nothing for evil to flourish” or words to that effect.
    ‘Israel’, implying specifically the Israeli government (of various hues over the years), is Fascist, cruel and Apartheid. It started life as such with Ben Gurion, it invented terrorism and it is a threat to the peace of the World. Israel, like its mentor the US of A, needs to totally rethink its attitude and foreign policy.


    January 10, 2011 at 12:08 pm

  4. Addendum:-
    And Israel has never shown any real interest in suing for peace; there have been numerous opportunities over the last 60 years for achieving a solution but various Israeli administrations have never shown the slightest real interest. They permit, indeed encourage, illegal settlers to hold sway using guns and do not realise that they are painting themselves into a corner leaving a powder keg of animosity for future Israeli/Jewish populations.
    It will happen, the US of A will be diminished leaving Israel really out on its own, – alone!! Their claims then that, “Oh, we could have done business with Hamas but not this new ‘Terrorist group’!” will fall on very deaf ears.
    When the pendulum sweeps the other way there will undoubtedly again be ‘Good men who stood by and did nothing!’


    January 10, 2011 at 12:35 pm

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