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Davis, California

Saturday, October 16, 2021

International conflict divides Davis Food Co-op

Davis Food Co-op members have until May 28 to vote for candidates to fill seats on its Board of Directors, and candidates are including an international debate in their agenda.

The seven candidates running are Kevin Wolf, Michael Pach, Rebecca Hager, Stephen Reynolds, Teddy Consolacion, Dina Biscotti and Franklin D. Fox.

The voters, anyone who is a member of the Davis Food Co-op, will select four candidates for the director position and the top three vote-getters will be given three-year terms, while the fourth place will fill a one-year term. The remaining candidates also serve a one-year term but as an alternate.

Reynolds has served the past three years, including this last year as President. Consolacion and Wolf are the two other candidates with previous experience on the Board of Directors.

Eric Stromberg, membership director of the Davis Food Co-op, has helped with elections for over 20 years. He said the Co-op’s system of a representative democracy allows for issues to be discussed when there is not an obvious solution.

Wolf, an incumbent running for re-election, believes the policy governance model used by the Co-op represents the structure of future democratically run organizations.

“It is a very different way of having the Board of Directors take care of big things and the management take care of operational things, such as paying staff wages and marketing plans,” Wolf said. “The board can then focus and do a much better job figuring out ways to make the store more environmentally sound, or improving the customer experience.”

One example of trying to find out where the Co-op should put its emphasis through member input is with better polling, Wolf said. He believes this sort of upgrade will allow members to weigh in on the store’s priorities, as well as keep the Board in-tune with the opinions of the majority of shareholders.

“The world is a better place when more people are shopping at the Co-op,” Wolf said. “So many good things come out of shopping here, like supporting local farmers, but the question remains: How do we bring in more people?”

Still, Wolf has had to take a position regarding the controversial Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign taking place at the Co-op. Wolf believes gaining member loyalty is critical, but engaging in a political or religious affront perpetuates divisiveness.

Since February, some members of the Co-op have proposed a ban on all Israeli goods from the store because they believe the Israeli government is violating the human rights of the Palestinian people. After getting enough signatures to pass the petition onto consideration by the Board, the initiative was eventually deemed improper according to the bylaws.

Reynolds believes the Co-op will not remain true to the First Cooperative Principal – being open to all without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination – if this initiative is passed.

Although Wolf also does not support the effort to boycott Israeli products, he acknowledges that it has shown problems in the by-laws and how they can be easily misinterpreted by members, due to the lack of clarity.

“I think the members should ultimately decide whether to permit the boycott or not, instead of giving complete control to the Board,” Wolf said.

He also believes the boycott would not benefit the Co-op.

“The harm this boycott can have on our local grocery store is much more significant than the message it makes about Israeli-Palestinian relations,” he said.

Michael Pach, the candidate running on a platform to protect Co-op democracy, was motivated to change the bylaws after the BDS campaign was unanimously rejected by the Board.

“It is said that the arc of history bends toward justice, but apparently this sentiment is not shared by the current Co-op Board of Directors,Pach said in a written statement. “Recently, the Co-op’s board voted unanimously to deny Co-op members the opportunity to be heard on the issue of Palestinian human rights in Israel, the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem and the besieged Gaza Strip.”

Elizabeth Boardman, an advocate for the BDS campaign of Israeli goods, as well as supporter of candidate Pach, recently withdrew her membership because she believes the Board breached the basic principles of the Co-op by not allowing members to vote on the boycott.

“Mike [Pach] favors the boycott and also favors the basic principles of a cooperative,” Boardman said. “I am a born and bred Co-op member and the Board is basically rejecting its core principles, like educating the public of the events taking place in the Middle East.”

Boardman, who is now engaged in the national BDS campaign toward Israel, said she is not hopeful for the Co-op’s future, even if Pach is elected.

Franklin D. Fox, another first time candidate running for a seat on the Board, is running for two reasons.

“I have been a member of the Davis Food Co-op since 1984, so it is my time to serve,” Fox said. “Secondly, and my main reason for running, is to contest the anti-Semitic proposition to boycott Israeli products.”

Fox was a member of the Berkeley Food Co-op in the ’70s and witnessed its demise, which was partly caused by political divisiveness. He does not want the Davis Co-op to lose sight of their real purpose as well – providing fair trade and prices, along with nutritious and healthy products to the community.

Additionally, according to Fox, a local grocery store is not the place to fairly assess the political turmoil between Israelis and Palestinians.

“My campaign is about bringing a reasonable and rational approach to understanding the concerns of the members,” Fox said. “If the bylaws are changed it would be unfortunate if this proposition is approved.”

Fox believes the Co-op should move forward with the Board’s position on the initiative.

“This could cause a huge exodus of members who support Israel or members who are just opposed to the fact that a vulnerable grocery store can be center stage for political rhetoric – especially with the opening of Trader Joe’s,” Fox said.

MICHAEL STEPANOV can be reached at city@theaggie.org.

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