PORT TOWNSEND — The Port Townsend Co-op board rejected a proposal to boycott Israeli products after much discussion Tuesday night.
The six-member board voted 4-2 against the proposal, saying that it was not consistent with its boycott policies.
An estimated 175 people attended the board meeting at the Quimper Universalist Unitarian Fellowship hall in Port Townsend.
The proposal sought the removal of several Israeli-made products from the co-op’s shelves “until Israel stops violating international law and the rights of the Palestinian people.”
“We have heard a great deal of impassioned testimony tonight,” said board member Rick Sepler, who made the motion to reject the proposal.
“It came from people who really believe what they are saying, but I don’t think it is the co-op board’s responsibility to weigh in on these international issues.”
The core of Sepler’s motion was that the policy, which allows “a refusal to purchase and/or carry a product or company’s product line that is not consistent with the Food Co-op’s mission statement and principles” cannot be applied to a country.
After lengthy discussion, the motion to reject the boycott was supported by board chairman Sam Gibboney and members Steve Moore and Janet Welch and Sepler.
It was opposed by board members Dan Goldstein and Dorn Campbell.
The board deliberated for nearly an hour, after nearly two hours of comments from about 55 people, who were restricted to two minutes each.
The comment period was scheduled from 6:15 p.m. to 7:45 p.m., with a line of those wishing to speak extending down the middle aisle and out the back door.
At 7:45 p.m., the board voted to allow additional comments but only for those who were then in line.
No board members kept tallies of those for and against, but they felt that the statements were balanced between those favoring and those opposing the measure.
Representatives of both sides of the issue agreed that it was a difficult decision for a food co-op board.
Many said that such a board should not be involved in deciding a political issue and that the decision to buy or boycott a specific product should be left to the individual rather than a store.
Additionally, if the action was approved, some board members felt that several other political-based motions would be presented and would divert the co-op from the mission of providing food to the community.
“When I ran for this position, no one wondered how I stood politically,” Moore said.
“If people knew that I was going to decide matters of international policy, I would have been asked different questions.”
Sepler made his motion almost immediately after the board convened for discussion, but its passage was diverted by the attempt to add an amendment.
Goldstein, who has been a vocal supporter of the proposed boycott, presented a motion to reject it for lack of support, but it died without a second.
Welch then proposed adding an amendment that acknowledged those who were concerned about Middle East peace, proposing an amendment stating “the members of the food co-op want to establish peace in the Middle East.”
During one version of the amendment someone shouted out “and the world” and the phrase “Middle East and other regions” was added.
The board took the amendment through several other versions before deciding to vote only on the original motion.
“That is a good sentiment, but I think this would be more appropriate as a separate motion,” Sepler said.
Several members of the board said they were glad the boycott had been proposed because it gave people the opportunity to discuss the issues.
The board’s action came after nearly two months of debate and discussion, including a visit from Israeli Vice Consul Gideon Lustig earlier this week.
Lustig lobbied against the boycott, while local peace activist Kit Kittredge of Quilcene held several meetings in its support.
The boycott was proposed in July.
It would have been the second food co-op in the nation to undertake a boycott of Israeli-made products.
The Olympia Co-op voted to boycott Israeli goods in July.