Bay Area Women Against Rape (BAWAR) Tells Commonwealth Club: Cancel Whole Foods CEO Appearance

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 NYC and LA. Mackey issued a statement of loyalty to Gafni.

A consortium of anti-sexual violence groups led by Bay Area Women Against Rape (BAWAR) has asked the Commonwealth Club of California to cancel the appearance of Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, scheduled for May 1. Mackey is set to appear at the Cubberley Theatre in Palo Alto, in conversation with Dr. Dean Ornish.​

Leaders from organizations including BAWAR and Peaceful Hearts Foundation (nonprofit founded by Matthew Sandusky, one of six adopted children of former Penn State coach, convicted pedophile Jerry Sandusky) emailed Commonwealth Club leaders, stating: 

"We request that Mackey publicly disavow Gafni, or that his talk at the Commonwealth Club be canceled."

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.​

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.

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."

More than 100 rabbis and Jewish leaders undersigned a petition to Whole Foods: “Stop Marc Gafni from Abusing Again.” The petition cited “many, repeated and serious allegations, both public and private, former and recent.”

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 in June, as reported by the Forward. Mackey stated:

“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.”

According to an undated "Marc Gafni Statement" on the Whole Foods Market Newsroom site, Mackey is "no longer on the board of directors of the Center for Integral Wisdom."

On his Whole Foods Market Blog, Mackey states his involvement with Gafni is "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."

In December, an open letter from 130 advocates to board members of Whole Foods and Conscious Capitalism, Inc. (a business ethics nonprofit organization Mackey co-founded) urged "sexual violence accountability." Published by Feminine Collective, the letter was 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.

Organized by Peaceful Hearts Foundation, the Stop Abuse Campaign, and Protect NY Kids, protest speakers included members of RAINN Speakers Bureau, from the country's largest anti-sexual violence organization, and SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, the organization featured in the Oscar-winning movie Spotlight[Watch video: former model 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, Columbia University, and Emory University, have criticized Mackey's loyalty to 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 -- enabling and protecting predators is the life blood of rape culture. It takes a village to enable a sexual predator, it takes a village to stop rape culture. The Commonwealth Club has an opportunity to be part of the solution. Mackey needs to disavow Gafni, or the Commonwealth Club should cancel his appearance. This is accountability. Ending rape culture is on all of us."

Gafni has never been charged with a crime. He is exemplar on a petition to New York state lawmakers, urging them to pass the Child Victims Act, proposed statute of limitations reform for claims of child sexual abuse. The petition has garnered more than 69,000 signatures. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo pledged his support for the bill.

In their email to the Commonwealth Club, advocacy leaders ask:

"Would the Commonwealth Club be willing to demonstrate its support for survivors of sexual assault and child sexual abuse, and its commitment to changing the culture of sexual violence by canceling Mr. Mackey's scheduled appearance?"

Dean Ornish has asked advocates to stop "heckling" Mackey.

Advocates have issued a Call to Action: Please urge the Commonwealth Club to hold Mackey accountable and cancel his appearance. Call 415-597–6700 (live person answers) or tweet at @cwclub

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

Source: Bay Area Women Against Rape (BAWAR)


Categories: Child Abuse, Criminal Behavior, Assault

Tags: Commonwealth Club, Dean Ornish, John Mackey, Rape Culture, Sexual Violence, Whole Foods


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About Bay Area Women Against Rape (BAWAR)

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BAWAR was the first rape crisis center in the country; founded with the two-part goal of establishing a place where survivors of sexual assault could receive quality counseling and advocacy, and providing community education on sexual violence.

Nancy Levine
Press Contact, Bay Area Women Against Rape (BAWAR)
Bay Area Women Against Rape (BAWAR)
470 27th Street
Oakland, CA 94612
United States