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April 4, 2011, Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op Owner/Members filed a grievance today, appealing the Co-op General Manager’s prohibition against distributing information or discussing Palestine/Israel or Palestinian human rights in front of the store. The grievance may be considered by the Board at its April 5, 6pm meeting, 1914 Alhambra.
On March 29, 2011, Co-op General Manager Paul Cultrera issued a memo to the Co-op management and staff that bans any organization from tabling in front of the store with any material that “mentions the Palestine/Israel issue”. The memo also specifies that no groups will “be allowed to talk about Palestine/Israel issues, Palestinian human rights or the proposed BDS boycott.” (BDS refers to the international grassroots Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign, bdsmovement.net.)
The grievance notes that “the General Manager’s ban discriminates against one group, the Palestinian people, by prohibiting any discussion of their human rights. This ban does not apply to the human rights of any other racial, ethnic, national, or religious group.” Members have raised concerns that this violates the Co-op’s own non-discrimination policy.
The Co-op’s “gag rule” was put in place "a week after Co-op owners had submitted the required signatures to put the Human Rights Initiative on the ballot” according to the grievance. That initiative would allow Co-op Members to vote on whether they want the store to stop carrying products from Israel until Israel stops violating international law and the human rights of the Palestinian people.
The Co-op’s Bylaws provide for member initiatives endorsed by 100 members to be placed before a vote of the full membership without Board interference. The Board is asserting it has authority over initiatives; on March 15 its Policy Committee recommended that the Human Rights Initiative not be allowed on the ballot.
“It is very sad when an institution which has so many positive functions in the community goes to such lengths to suppress Member concerns,” stated long time Co-op Member Jeanie Keltner. “The Board seems to have decided from the beginning that it did not want the Co-op to boycott Israeli products and has thrown up ad hoc blocks to stop an initiative on this international issue from being placed before Co-op members. What does this say about Co-op democracy?”
In the Co-op’s Spring Newsletter, Cultrera states that the tabling ban “came after numerous violations of the Co-op’s Tabling Policy were reported to management.” The Member’s grievance notes that these “allegations are contested and open to question, and that the alleged misconduct of specific tablers provides no rational or defensible basis for a content-based gag rule.”
Cultrera leveled the charges in a February 3 email to Sacramento Area Peace Action, in whose name the tabling permit had been issued. Peace Action noted in an April 1 letter to Cultrera that “no documentation about these allegations has been furnished. These allegations remain as hearsay. Further they are suspect due to likely bias on the part of those complaining, as they disagree with what is being presented.”
Copies of the Grievance and Co-op memo are available at www.sacbds.org.
The issue is discussed in more detail on the Daily Censored blog.
(Maggie Coulter is a long time human rights activist, organic gardener and member of the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op; she is part of the effort to get the Human Rights Initiative on the Co-op ballot.)