Rainbow workers soundly defeat Israeli goods boycott

The worker-owners of San Francisco's Rainbow Grocery Cooperative made a statement last week that pro-Israel activists were happy to hear.

The store's roughly 190 employees voted overwhelmingly against a proposed boycott of Israeli-made goods. The boycott would have required a two-thirds majority in order to pass — yet far more Rainbow employees voted against the boycott than for it, according to Rod Neves, a member of Rainbow's public relations committee. The store did not release exact numbers.

"We're pleased as punch," said Steve Berley, the Jewish Community Relations Council's director of Israel programs.

"They made the right decision. They decided to keep politics out of the grocery store and decided that all members of the community are welcome at their store. Even in the progressive community, there's a recognition that the anti-Israel noise is coming from only the extreme margin, and the bulk of the progressive community agrees that things are not perfect but Israel is an important thing to the Jews and to the world."

Rainbow made international headlines late last year when longstanding boycotts of Israeli goods in two of the organic cooperative's departments were discovered and brought to light by an angry Jewish shopper in search of Chanukah gelt.

Under heavy scrutiny from local Jewish organizations and the mainstream media, Rainbow capitulated in December, reversing the boycott and altering its rules structure so individual department heads could no longer institute boycotts without store approval.

Since then, pro-Palestinian groups and store employees had floated the possibility of introducing a storewide Israeli boycott to Rainbow's electorate, culminating in such a vote during the first two weeks of this month. The votes were tallied and the result was announced last Friday via a statement on the store's Web site


The crushing defeat of the boycott should render this matter closed, according to Neves.

"I don't expect this will be re-introduced. If it was, I expect it would die on the floor," he said. Coming on the heels of the decisive vote, any move to pull Israeli goods from the shelves "would be a very unpopular decision for someone to make independently."

In the weeks and months leading to the vote, various speakers presented both the pro- and anti-boycott case. Rabbi Michael Lerner spoke to about 40 Rainbow workers in July and condemned the idea of singling out Israel.

"I'm very pleased," Lerner said. "I would have hated to be standing outside of their establishment picketing them for their stand. I think it would have been very wrong to have initiated a boycott against Israel. Even though I strongly disagree with Israeli policy, I think to single out Israel for human rights violations is a serious moral error.

"A lot of the people I met with listened curiously and sympathetically and said supportive things. That made me realize that those in favor of the boycott, while vociferous, were not in the majority. So, I came away from the meeting feeling very optimistic."

Berley said he hopes Rainbow and the Jewish community can move on. He urged Jewish customers to either continue visiting or return to the store and to advocate for more Israeli products on the shelves.

The lopsided vote "really reinforces the point that it was a very small number of people who were rallying [for the boycott], and, in the long run, they achieved no traction with the Rainbow ownership community," he said.

"That's fantastic. Rainbow's ownership community realized that wasn't wise for them."

The vote, he continued, proves "that the voice of reason does prevail, even at Rainbow."

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.