Anti-Sexual Violence Groups to Protest at Whole Foods CEO Commonwealth Club Event

The New York Times first reported Whole Foods CEO John Mackey's association with spiritual leader Marc Gafni, a former rabbi accused of sexual abuse. The Times reported Gafni describing one of his accusers: "She was 14 going on 35, and I never forced her." The Washington Post reported on protests at Whole Foods stores in New York City and Los Angeles. Mackey issued a statement of loyalty to Gafni.

​​​An alliance of anti-sexual violence groups that includes Bay Area Women Against Rape (BAWAR) is organizing a protest at an event featuring Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, presented by the Commonwealth Club of California. Mackey is set to appear in conversation with Alison van Diggelen, BBC contributor and host of  "Fresh Dialogues," at the Cubberley Theatre in Palo Alto on May 1. 

Advocacy leaders from organizations including the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence (NAESV) and Faculty Against Rape (FAR) have called for “sexual violence accountability,” urging Mackey to disavow spiritual leader Marc Gafni, a former New York rabbi accused of sexual abuse. Gafni is leader of San Francisco Bay Area-based think tank The Center for Integral Wisdom.

"April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Whole Foods CEO John Mackey's loyalty to Marc Gafni is a perfect example of rape culture. Minimizing and normalizing sexual assault is emblematic of rape culture. It takes a village to enable a sexual predator, it takes a village to stop rape culture. Mackey needs to disavow Gafni. Accountability matters. Ending rape culture is on all of us."

Julie L. Golston, Certified Rape Crisis Counselor, Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) Coordinator, BAWAR

Last week, BAWAR issued a public Call to Action:

"Please urge the Commonwealth Club to hold Whole Foods CEO John Mackey accountable and cancel his appearance. Call 415-597–6700, email CEO Gloria Duffy,, or tweet at @cwclub."

Mackey was originally set to appear in conversation with Dr. Dean Ornish. Van Diggelen replaced Ornish on the event announcement earlier this week, after Ornish asked advocacy groups to stop "heckling" Mackey about his association with Gafni.

Mackey's involvement with Gafni was first reported by The New York Times in December 2015. The Times reported Gafni describing one of his accusers: 

“Mr. Gafni was quoted saying they had been in love. He added, ‘She was 14 going on 35, and I never forced her.’” 

The Times also reported: 

“A co-founder of Whole Foods, John Mackey, a proponent of conscious capitalism, calls Mr. Gafni ‘a bold visionary.’ He is a chairman of the executive board of Mr. Gafni’s center, and he hosts board meetings at his Texas ranch.”

The New York Daily News reported Gafni denying allegations. According to the News, Gafni stated his underage accusers in the 1980s, then 13 and 16, were willing partners.

More than 100 rabbis and Jewish leaders undersigned a petition to Whole Foods, citing “many, repeated and serious allegations, both public and private, former and recent, against Marc (Mordechai) Gafni.”

Sara Kabakov identified herself as the then-girl whom Gafni described as "14 going on 35." She came forward publicly for the first time in an opinion piece in the Forward: "I Was 13 When Marc Gafni's Abuse Began."

The Washington Post reported on coordinated protests at Whole Foods stores in New York City and Los Angeles in May 2016.

Mackey issued a statement of loyalty to Gafni in June. As reported by the Forward, Mackey said:

“I have known Marc Gafni for several years, and he has continued to tell me that he is innocent of the allegations being made about him. Loyalty and the presumption of innocence are important values to me, so I will not join those who are condemning him.”

An undated "Marc Gafni Statement" on the Whole Foods Market Newsroom says Mackey is no longer on the board of directors of Gafni's center.

Mackey's Whole Foods Market Blog was edited in June to say his involvement with Gafni is now "strictly a personal relationship."

In November, soon after Donald Trump's vulgar brag "grab them by the p***y" made headlines, Gafni tweeted: "Donald Trump is an Outrageous Lover."

An open letter from 130 advocates urged "sexual violence accountability," asking Mackey to disavow Gafni. Addressed to board member of Whole Foods and Conscious Capitalism, Inc. (a business ethics nonprofit organization Mackey founded), the open letter was published by Feminine Collective and signed by advocacy leaders, university professors, and students.

In February 2017, a consortium of advocacy groups organized a protest at Mackey's keynote speech at Conscious Capitalism, Inc. in San Francisco, where the organization is headquartered.

The February protest was organized by Peaceful Hearts Foundation (nonprofit founded by Matthew Sandusky, one of six adopted children of former Penn State coach, convicted pedophile Jerry Sandusky), the Stop Abuse CampaignProtect NY Kids, and SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, the organization featured in the Oscar-winning movie Spotlight. Protest speakers included members of RAINN Speakers Bureau, from the country's largest anti-sexual violence organization.  

[Watch video: former model, activist Nikki DuBose speaks at San Francisco protest]

Business and ethics experts, including professors from Harvard Business School, the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and Emory University, have criticized Mackey's association with Gafni.

Julie L. Golston, Certified Rape Crisis Counselor, Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) Coordinator at BAWAR, said:

"April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Whole Foods CEO John Mackey's loyalty to Marc Gafni is a perfect example of rape culture. Minimizing and normalizing sexual assault is emblematic of rape culture. It takes a village to enable a sexual predator, it takes a village to stop rape culture. Mackey needs to disavow Gafni. Accountability matters. Ending rape culture is on all of us."

Gafni has never been charged with a crime. According to Andrew Willis, CEO of the Stop Abuse Campaign, Gafni is protected by New York state's statute of limitations laws, among the most restrictive in the country. Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his support for the Child Victims Act, proposed legislation to eliminate statutes of limitations for claims of child sexual abuse. A petition to state lawmakers in support of the bill has garnered nearly 70,000 signatures.

UPDATE: The Commonwealth Club has responded by blocking advocates on Twitter.

BAWAR, based in Oakland, California, is the country's first rape crisis center, founded in 1971.

Protest: Monday, May 1, Cubberley Theatre, Palo Alto, California, 6-8pm

Source: Bay Area Women Against Rape (BAWAR)

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