Voices in Focus: As Israel Boycott at Co-op Falls, Anti-Boycott Movement Rises

This building at 19 Mott St., owned by Jan Lee, is one of many that were recently taxed to support the Chinatown BID. (Photo by DNAinfo/Julie Shapiro)

There’s plenty to chew on from the ethnic and community media this morning:

* Opponents of movements to boycott products from Israel won a local victory yesterday, when more than 1,600 members of the Park Slope Food Co-op turned out for a vote and overwhelmingly rejected a referendum on an Israeli products boycott. The worldwide movement to boycott Israel for its treatment of Palestinians (known as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, movement) has spawned a counter-movement of those opposing such bans, The Jewish Week reported in a piece that profiled two of those opponents:

… in each of those fights, including the one in Park Slope, ordinary people who never before led a cause or campaign have emerged as leaders, keeping the story a fresh one.

Barbara Mazor, the founder of More Hummus, Please at the Park Slope Food Co-op, is one example. The 55-year-old resident of Midwood, a member of the co-op for 23 years, said she felt compelled to act because she has read about the divisive battles at other co-ops and “didn’t want to see the same thing happen at mine.”

Another example is Jon Haber, a resident of the Boston area who, in the past eight years, has become a key resource for anti-BDS activists, publishing a blog on the boycott movement and efforts to counter it.

Speaking of Mazor and her motivations, Haber said, “I’ve seen that type of experience — I’ve lived it myself. People who had no leadership in the past feel galvanized to move” when something they care about or identify with, such as Israel, comes under attack.

* In Chinatown, business owners are up in arms about their first bill for fees from a new Chinatown Business Improvement District in the area, DNAinfo reported.

The BID said it levied fees to members for coordinating trash cleanup, signs, decorations and other amenities for a period starting Oct. 1, 2011, and ending in June 2012.

The BID, however, wasn’t officially approved by the state Comptroller’s office until late January — almost four months after the City Council and Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed it into law, according to records.

“We are being charged for a period of time before the BID was even founded,” said Jan Lee, a BID opponent who owns two buildings on Mott Street and said he was charged more than $2,200. “We want to know where our money is going.”

* A Harlem historian hopes to highlight New York City’s role in the Underground Railroad, and hopes to create a “Freedom Trail” walking tour of significant sites related to the abolition movement, similar to Boston’s commemorating the Revolutionary War.

Jacob Morris, who heads the Harlem Historical Society, “has long been fascinated by the many historical sites related to the abolition movement that are sprinkled throughout Lower Manhattan — and is heartbroken that most New Yorkers have never heard of them,” DNAinfo reported.

“TriBeCa was basically New York City’s Harlem before the Civil War,” Morris said. “Downtown Manhattan was honeycombed with Underground Railroad locations, and there were residences and businesses of abolitionists.”

To create the Freedom Trail, Morris envisions free maps showing a dozen or more historical sites south of Canal Street, along with an iPod walking tour and markers at each of the sites. In Boston, a path of red paint and bricks leads trail-goers from one site to the next, and Morris is considering proposing something similar for Lower Manhattan.

* OurChinatown reported the latest in the ongoing saga of the Bowery newsstand owner Marilyn Louie, whose 35-year old stand was declared illegal because she is three inches too close to the building across from her. Louie has a 90-day reprieve as the Department of Transportation reviews her case, which has outraged her customers, supporters and local politicians.

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