As some folks know, I am one of the many people who worked on the campaign to get the Olympia Food Co-op to honor the boycott of Israeli products.
Yesterday, the Olympian published a letter by Rabbi Yohanna Kinberg against the boycott. Unfortuantely, Rabbi Kinberg’s letter contained significant misinformation about the boycott. There is already a lot of misinformation out there, but the fact that this was published in the Olympian by a respected clergy member was disconcerting, exacerbated by the fact that she knew what she was writing was false.
This problem was compounded when the Olympian issued an editorial today repeating Rabbi Kinberg’s falsehoods.
Rabbi Kinberg’s letter, as printed, was only 162 words. Here is the most egregious portion of the letter, followed by an examination of the falsehoods:
"This effort was organized by the international Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement which currently has paid organizers in town working to achieve their ends by the means of exploiting our community and creating division between community members.
"BDS has a history of going into small towns like Olympia, organizing against Israel, creating tensions and anger among community members and then moving on to their next effort leaving a broken community behind."
Lie #1: Organizers of BDS in Olympia are getting paid to promote BDS in town.
Response: Rabbi Kinberg provides no proof. She knows this is a lie. No one is getting paid to tout BDS. We're losing our own money and our own time working on these efforts and having to battle all the lies that Rabbi Kinberg and others keep spreading. We do it because we care about the state of the world, not because we like to annoy Rabbi Yohanna Kinberg.
Lie #2: Organizers of BDS are working for some large international "BDS" organization.
Response: BDS is an international grassroots movement. There is no centralized BDS headquarters that pulls the strings. It started with the 2005 BDS call by 170+ Palestinian civil society organizations located in Palestine and Israel. It has been endorsed by trade unions, peace groups, and prominent figures around the world. We started this local campaign on our own. We also did not pay Desmond Tutu, Naomi Klein, Cindy Sheehan, John Berger, Tariq Ali, Medea Benjamin, Ann Wright, Paul Kivel, or Roger Waters for their endorsements.
Lie #3: The goal of BDS is to "exploit our community and creat[e] division.
Response: The only exploitation I see here is Rabbi Kinberg using the Olympian to spread lies across the community.
As for creating division, we are not the ones telling people to boycott the Co-op. We are not the ones spreading lies that the Co-op board is calling for the destruction of Israel. We are not the ones making threats against the Co-op and harrassing Co-op staff. We are not the ones who are trying to frighten the Co-op board into circumventing its own established policies.
Those complaining about the Co-op's lack of democratic process could have initiated a member ballot to overturn a decision that they did not like. The fact that they've avoided this process and are trying to scare the board into submission proves that process is not a true concern.
We are Co-op members. One of the first requests to honor the boycott was made in 2008 by a longtime Co-op working member.
Lie #4: The BDS conspiracy enters susceptible communities, create tensions and anger, and then move on, "leaving a broken community behind.
If I made this accusation against Rabbi Kinberg, it could arguably be called anti-Semitism. What are we to make of this? Throughout Rabbi Kinberg's letter, she implies that promoters of BDS in Olympia are actually paid outside agitators, to be distinguished from true Co-op members. In reality, I've lived in this community longer than she has. Not that it should matter—except that she brought it up—but I've worked in this community for most of my life, while she works in Bellevue.
Rabbi Kinberg knows who I am. She knows that what she wrote is false. So why did she resort to such bold lies?
This is my suspicion:
1. She is unable to make any arguments against the Co-op's boycott of Israeli goods, so instead she resorts to lies against its most vocal advocates.
2. She is exploiting her position as a rabbi and as one who is married to the town's most prominent rabbi, expecting that her claims will go unquestioned and that her accusations will carry more weight than our denials.
3. She knows that once such outlandish claims have been published in the newspaper, they can never be completely disproven. The idea will float in people's minds. Regardless of the truth, people will associate boycott proponents as somehow being paid outside agitators set on wreaking havoc in the community.
4. This conflict with Rabbi Kinberg shifts the focus from Palestinian human rights to a local tiff. It attempts to distract and demoralize the organizers, scare away bystanders and potential supporters, and make people believe that the only way to end this "divisiveness" is to oppose the boycott.
It does not please me to call out an individual like this, and I previously refrained from doing so. However, Rabbi Yohanna Kinberg has been exploiting her position of power, has been targeting me and a few other individuals specifically and by name, and has made serious accusations before the public.
The more I stay quiet about it, the more intentional damage she will do.
I am aware that she has also attempted to derail our organizing efforts, even trying to get an upcoming public event cancelled. This is very unbecoming of a spiritual leader (if I may say so as an agnostic). It is clear from Rabbi Kinberg's own actions that she is not interested in dialogue, she is not interested in democratic process, and she is not interested in helping people in the community become informed.
It's unfortunate that some people will see my response as a personal attack against a high-ranking individual. For those people who are unable to weigh the evidence, there is nothing I can do.
After reading Rabbi Kinberg’s lies in the paper yesterday, I called up the office of the Olympian’s opinion editor, Mike Oakland. Oakland was not in, and reporter John Dodge answered the call. I pointed out to Dodge that the letter was full of lies and that Rabbi Kinberg knew so. Dodge said he would assign a reporter to look into it.
Today, however, the Olympian published an editorial that reiterated Kinberg’s claim that “the decision was prompted by outside agitators.” I called Managing Editor Jerry Wakefield, who, like John Dodge, said he was assigning a reporter to it. He was reluctant to issue a correction and told me to wait until his reporter covered the issue to see if that would resolve my concerns. We’ll see.
There are a lot of people in the community who support the Co-op's boycott decision but are scared to be public about it. You can see why.
P.S.: With the exception of the quoted pieces, these are all my words and should not be attributed to any other person or organization, as has already been done in an attempt to defame me or others.
P.P.S: Other lies in her 162-word letter:
"Recently, the Olympia Food Co-op board of directors voted to boycott all products from Israel.
She knows that not ALL products from Israel are boycotted.
"...this decision to single out Israel for human rights abuses...
She knows that this is not the only boycott ever instituted by the Co-op.
P.P.P.S.: If you want to actually hear from the organizers themselves rather than follow all the rumors and lies being spread in town, be sure to attend the August 4 event at Traditions, at 7 PM.
P.P.P.P.S.: Some of Rabbi Kinberg's false claims are reminiscent of the accusations made by Jon Haber, the guy from Massachusetts who runs the "Divest This" blog. Jon seems to be relishing in the current Olympia social dynamics. If anyone wants to know how reliable Jon Haber is, check out my conversation with him in the comments section on his website. Notice how he makes a bunch of accusations, is proven wrong each time, and then simply ignores that and comes up with different charges.