Phew. What a night.
Mountain Equipment Co-op’s (MEC) AGM (annual general meeting) was to be held this evening at 6pm. Doors open at 5:15. I’d preached all of last week about the importance of attending in order to show support to Israel because a group of MEC members (anyone who shops there is a member) were going to bid a motion to boycott Israeli products from the store since we’re just so horrible.
But come this afternoon at 4:30, I was walking along Fraser Street doing some shopping and thinking that the last thing I felt like doing was going to a hate fest. I was exhausted just from the thought of being surrounded by all these people who hate me.
I arrived at home, practically convinced that it was OK if I just stayed home until I realized that there were things I wanted even less than to be in a room of Israel/Jew haters, and that was for their motion to pass and for there to be a lack of support for Israel in the room. What if everyone else also decided not to go because it’s too stressful or they’re just too tired?
So I stuffed some cereal down my throat and rushed out to catch the bus downtown, feeling terrible nervousness.
I arrived at 5:45 which, apparently, was too late. There was a bit of a line-up left outside the Simon Fraser Business School building on Granville and some protesters hanging around. I recognized people from Vancouver’s Hillel, the Federation, and I think the Canada-Israel Committee. The doors were closed to the building and they were telling us that they’d just about reached capacity. They let in another nine people and said that was it. I left the line, so relieved that I’d tried but failed to get in. Good for the conscience, good for the emotional health.
Suddenly the doors were opened again and a bunch of people were let in. I quickly resumed position and slipped in with a friend.
The room was packed and stuffy and the meeting began in typical AGM style (I’ve never been to an AGM, I’m just guessing). Voting on if it was OK to breath or not, speeches about topics distant from my heart, especially while I looked around, trying to figure out who is one what “side”.
Finally, after over an hour, they introduced the motions put forward by members. The Israel-boycott one was the second out of three motions. When it finally was mentioned, people woke up and started listening more intently.
There was a microphone set up on each side of the room. The left side was for the leftists (really!) and the right side was for the people who are right (as in correct). The guy who’d sent in the bid was given some time to explain his position. He kept mentioning South African and apartheid.
Then, on the opposite side of the room, someone was able to counter the arguments or just talk about their opinions on the topic. There was a line up of around 10 people on both sides, of people hoping to get a chance to speak. All in all, four people were given a chance to speak on each side.
The anti-Israel/supposedly pro-Palestinians bashed Israel, said how evil and destructive we are and how cruel we were for not “helping” the Palestinians and for killing so many of them and oppressing them. They threw out numbers of how ny maUN laws we break, etc. etc. The second guy on that side to get up was Jewish. When he introduced himself and said his name, a semi-uproar went up in the room, Jews feeling appauled that a Jew was on that side, even though we all know that exists.
The pro-Israel/MEC policy side (meaning the right side) was OK. I can’t really remember what they said. I did not find them too convincing. Some of their arguments irked me and I constantly regretted not having the guts to have prepared something to say “from the heart.” The last guy to speak from the “good guys” was good. He worked for MEC at some point or something so it felt more meaningful and he knew what he was talking about. He said that MEC’s policy is not to boycott countries (unless Canada or the UN do) and only to deal with each individual company. He said, if there is a problem with the actual company, then it should be discussed. So basically, if this motion was against Israel, then it didn’t fit within MEC policy so there was nothing to talk about.
Then the voting began. “Those in favour raise your orange paper.”
So many hands went up! It was scary and disheartening. So many people in that room wanting to boycott Israel?
It took a couple of minutes for people to walk up and down the isles and count the voters.
At least twice the number of hands went up. “Oh, thank God!” I actually said out loud, in a sigh. I got shivers and teary-eyed. I was so touched! It felt like such a victory, all of us sitting there in the boiling room, holding our hands up to keep doing business with Israel. Not willing to go where these Israel-haters want us to go.
One woman couldn’t find her paper. She literally started freaking out. I didn’t really understand that since it was totally obvious that we’d won. But she couldn’t get over it. She was looking everywhere for it. Suddenly, one of the guys that had voted for the boycott, turned around and gave her his piece of paper. It was so nice of him and I hated him for it. : )
Our hands got tired as it took a while for the voters to be counted. The number was so much higher than the left’s side. We spoke amongst ourselves, feeling in much higher spirits after all the stress leading up to that moment. People were making jokes, switching hands, though never, God forbid, lowering the orange paper, even for a second.
The whole experience was so intense. The anti-Israel side’s arguments didn’t hurt me as much as I thought they would, because they were just so ridiculous and obviously anti-Semitic. There are so many better places to put your energy. It makes no sense. But it still just hurts to be hated.
Either way, tonight we had a sweet victory. It felt wonderful and hopeful and that is why I was so touched, looking around the room at all the hands up in the air to keep the Israeli products on the shelf. Maybe people are able to see that it is hatred these people are trying to spread, not, as they claimed, an attempt “to leave a better world behind.”