Rainbow Grocery puts Israeli boycott on the ballot

In a sign of the times, workers at San Francisco's Rainbow Grocery Cooperative are throwing their own recall election — of Israeli goods.

The Folsom Street worker-owned organic grocery made worldwide headlines in December, when it was revealed that two of the store's departments had opted to remove Israeli goods from the shelves in a movement of solidarity with the Palestinians. The store capitulated following a month of angry correspondence from the Jewish community and negative coverage in the mainstream media.

As a result, Rainbow's individual department heads are no longer allowed to enact their own boycotts without store approval.

A three-week election process kicked off at the store on the first of the month, and Rainbow's roughly 190 worker-owners will have until next week to cast a ballot for or against a storewide boycott of Israeli goods. Votes will be tallied by Aug. 22.

Rod Neves, a member of the store's public relations committee and also an employee in its herb department, noted that both proponents and opponents of the Israeli boycott have made informational presentations.

He confirmed that store workers are deeply divided on the issue, and the workplace has grown tense.

The election will take an extra week because of the delicacy of the issue, according to Neves, and also because all election materials must be translated into Spanish. Time must also be allotted to count absentee ballots.

The Jewish Community Relations Council has assailed the potential boycott as destructive and hypocritical, noting no other nations have ever been singled out for such treatment.

"Of all countries, why Israel? Israel is the only country in the Middle East that protects the rights of women and minorities, as well as gays and lesbians. Only in Israel can Arab women run for office. Also, only Israel guarantees religious freedom for all of its residents, etc.," reads a mass-e-mail from Yitzhak Santis, the JCRC's director of Middle East affairs.

"Rainbow includes a commitment to making 'an inclusive environment that is welcoming to everyone.' If so, how can they show no interest in contrary opinions?"

Santis urged Israel supporters to contact the store and make their feelings known. Neves said the store is receiving several angry phone calls a day, many from callers who believe a boycott has already been enacted.

If the boycott were approved, JCRC Assistant Director Abby Porth promised to "mobilize the Jewish community to express its outrage over this discriminatory policy."

Should the boycott pass or be voted down, Neves said there were no time rules about how quickly it could be repealed or re-voted upon, provided such a measure had "a groundswell" of support.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.