In response to the Co-operative Group’s boycott of Israeli goods, four U.S. states have banned investments in the company as a result of their respective anti-BDS laws: Arizona, New York, Illinois, and Florida. The New York State Office of General Services and the State Board of Administration of Florida placed the Co-Op Group in a list of institutions determined to participate in acts of boycott, divestment, and sanctions, and both Arizona and Illinois included it in its list of “prohibited investments.”
The Manchester-based supermarket retailer initiated its anti-Israel policy in 2009 when it refused to stock products from Israeli West Bank settlements. The company then expanded its policy in 2012 to bar engagement with Israeli suppliers known to work with settlements. The boycott directly cuts ties with the four main exporters of Israeli fresh produce, Agrexco, Arava Export Growers, Adafresh, and Mehadrin, and severs contracts worth up to £350,000 under the pretense of “exceptional circumstances,” stating on its website that “this position does not constitute a boycott of Israeli businesses. We remain committed to sourcing produce from and trading with Israeli suppliers that do not source from the settlements.” However, Luke Akehurst, director of the We Believe in Israel, a grassroots group that campaigns against boycotts, declared, “The Co-op Group’s boycott of certain Israeli suppliers has done nothing to advance peace and coexistence or to help the Palestinians. All it has achieved is to alienate Jewish and other pro-Israel customers…”
The Co-op Group is the 5th largest retail grocery chain the United Kingdom, and the only major British retailer to boycott Israeli goods.The Co-op Group is also a major funder of the Co-operative Party, which holds an electoral pact with the Labour Party. Given the current balance of power in Britain, the company’s boycott does not come as a shock. The Labour Party has increasingly faced criticism for the anti-Semitic rhetoric of its party, with up to 50 members facing suspension for allegations of anti-Semitism between April and June of 2016. Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, has been quoted referring to Hezbollah and Hamas as his “friends,” and has faced severe backlash for his failure to adequately respond to anti-Semitism within his own party
Following the general election last month where Corbyn and his party scored a major electoral victory over the Conservative party currently in power, the American state’s anti-BDS actions are all the more significant. Banning the Co-op Group’s financial services and retail stores from their states serves as an act of defiance against a political climate that has increasingly alienated members of the British Jewish community. The action also represents a significant victory for efforts to ensure that state anti-BDS bills are being implemented. New York, Illinois, Florida, and Arizona’s actions follow stipulations within their respective anti-BDS resolutions that require the compilation of a list of companies that engage in boycotting activities against Israel, pursuant to each state’s definition of BDS.