Sides argue for, against selling Israeli goods at Port Townsend Food Co-op
Gideon Lustig, deputy consul general of Israel for the Pacific Northwest region, defends Israel’s actions in regard to Palestine and the Gaza Strip on Sunday at Quimper Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Port Townsend. -- Photo by Jeff Chew/Peninsula Daily News
Kit Kittredge of Quilcene, who recently returned from a Code Pink humanitarian trip to Gaza, argues in favor of boycotting eight Israeli products sold at the Port Townsend Food Co-op to protest Israel’s political practices in Palestine at the Masonic Lodge in Port Townsend on Sunday. – Photo by Jeff Chew/Peninsula Daily News
By Jeff Chew
Peninsula Daily News
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The action of politically pressuring Israel through a local boycott "won't really do anything to provide peace," Gideon Lustig, Israel's deputy consul general for the West Coast and Northwest, told an audience of more than 100 at Quimper Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.
"Getting [a few] Israeli products out of the shop is tagging Israel as an apartheid country in the Middle East, and that doesn't get anybody anywhere," Lustig said.
The proposal to boycott Israeli goods will be considered by the six-member Food Co-op board at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the same Quimper Universalist hall where Lustig spoke.
Lustig said he hopes to meet with co-op board members Tuesday before they act on the matter.
"I feel I can provide members of the co-op board information that is valuable to help them make a decision," he said.
Calling for a boycott might not be anti-Semitic by intent, but "the actual outcome of what they are doing is labeling a democratic country" and singling it out, which he said can be interpreted as anti-Semitic by the Israeli people.
His comments came less than two hours after Kit Kittredge urged an audience of about two dozen at the Masonic Lodge in Port Townsend to support a co-op boycott.
The co-op has more than 5,000 members-owners.
"The boycott vote on Tuesday is not the end of this," said Kittredge, a Quilcene community leader and peace activist who has traveled with Code Pink representatives to Gaza five times, most recently in August.
"It's when human rights are restored to Gaza, that's when it ends."
She presented a slide show that included photos of children's bodies allegedly left in the rubble by Israeli bombings.
A boycott in Port Townsend, she said, would be "a very non-violent, peaceful way to address this issue."
Israeli products affected by the boycott would be Peace Oil & Fair Trade Olive Oil, Masada Bath Salts, Pearled Bulk Couscous, Tropical Source mint chocolate bars, Energee gluten-free pretzels, Glutino gluten-free pretzels and bulk paprika.
Home was bombed
Lustig, who said he grew up about two miles from the Gaza Strip and served 10 years in the Israeli military before becoming a diplomat, also said his parents' home was bombed by Hamas rebels.
He said Israelis are striking back at Palestinian attackers.
"When they shoot at us, we respond because we have to defend our people," Lustig said.
Unitarian Church representatives said they were conducting Lustig's presentation without outside intervention and wanted a productive, educational session of questions and answers without political opinions stated.
Most of the questions came, however, with opinion injected.
Lustig called it good news that peace talks were under way "because it gives us hope for a change."
He protested the word "apartheid" being used to describe Israeli political policy.
"I'm very offended when Israel is called an apartheid country," he said. "That is offensive to me as an Israeli."
He explained that apartheid was based on distinction by race, gender or even sexual preference, and not granting human rights for that reason.
He said some Palestinians have said Jews cannot live within a Palestinian state, which he considered a form of apartheid on the Palestinian part.
Israel's population is about 18 percent Arabic, and there are 12 seats on its parliament held by Arabs, Lustig noted.
He admitted that Israel was not without fault.
"We are a democracy that has a problem," he said. "We're trying to amend our problems.
"We are very proud of our democracy, considering the neighborhood."
Negotiation between Israelis and Palestinians, Lustig said, is the only solution to establish a two-state agreement.
"There's really no other solutions," he said.
Compromise is the key, he said, shedding doubt that there could be two winners.
"That would be amazing, but unfortunately I don't think it would be possible," he said.
According to Lustig, his country sees Hamas as a "violent terrorist organization" that intends to liberate the entire Palestinian territory and destroy Israel.
"If there is an agreement, it will be with the Palestinian authority because the represent the Palestinian people," as the Israeli government sees it, he said, maintaining a calmness in his voice throughout the presentation, although he joked at one point that he was "about to burst."
He said the Israeli government instead supports the "moderate side" of the Palestinian authority, led by President Mahmoud Abbas.
The issue is Hamas, which Israel does not recognize as the democratic government of Palestine.
While "the Palestinians are teaching their young how bad the Jews are," Lustig said, Israel is accepting of all peoples.
Kittredge was one of the initiators of a proposal that the food co-op boycott Israeli goods, which would, if approved, discontinue the sale of eight Israeli products, "until Israel stops violating international law and the rights of the Palestinian people."
During a question-and-answer session, Kittredge attempted to ask Lustig how a continued siege against the people of Gaza would help bring a peace agreement.
Lustig, who recognized Kittredge, asked here "was that really a question?"
He stood silent, refusing to answer her or even look her way.
For the co-op board's part, comment from member-owners will be taken at the board meeting, but members will not vote on the matter, said Sam Gibboney, board chairman.
The measure will need at least four out of six board votes to pass, Gibboney said.
Lustig was invited through Rob Jacobs, director of Stand-With Us of Seattle who has become involved in the issue.
The boycott proposal, if approved, would be the second such boycott passed by a food co-op in the nation.
The first was approved by the Olympia Food Co-op board in July.
Material urging a boycott has been distributed in the Port Townsend Food Co-op since July.
The Israeli consulate, based in San Francisco, learned of the proposal and dispatched Lustig to Port Townsend.
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Jeff Chew can be reached at 360-681-2391 or at email@example.com.
Last modified: September 20. 2010 12:14AM