Friday, 15 August 2014

Jews boycotting Jews

No to censorship,’ ‘no to boycotts,’ ‘boycotts divide.’

I keep encountering these phrases. In protests and opinion pieces, in radio debates and discussions with friends, they’ve become something of a mantra; a learned response to boycotts of Israelis and Jews.

Yet now there’s a group pushing a boycott of the Jewish Chronicle, and I’m wondering how the mantra applies.

Today the JC included an advert for the DEC Gaza crisis appeal. Some right-wing readers have been outraged – how dare the Jewish chronicle want to help Gaza! Disgraceful! As one facebook friend’s status put it: 

 “I'm actually speechless. It's time the JC removed the word Jewish from it's title.”

The comments underneath were revealing. One quipped that the next thing we know, the JC will post adverts from the BNP. Another derided the JC as ‘a garbage rag put out by self-hating Jews.’ When one girl wrote that she thought the advert was a good thing, with a humanitarian message, another commentator resorted to sexism, calling her ‘bitchy’.

What really interested me was this: a facebook page calling for a boycott of the JC because of the advert. At the time of writing, it has over 100 likes.

I’m confused. According to the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, the Tricycle’s decision to boycott the Jewish Film Festival was reminiscent of 1930s Germany; boycotting Jews, even if it’s because of their relationship with Israel, is anti-Semitic.

What about when Jews boycott other Jews? When Jonathan Levy, the (Jewish) chairman of the Tricycle Theatre boycotted the Jewish film festival, many protesting the Tricycle’s decision called him a self-hating Jew; a Jew who boycotts other Jews is a self-hater.

So what about those proposing to boycott the JC? Are they self-haters?

After all, both the Tricycle’s boycott of the UKJFF and the proposed boycott of the JC are boycotts of Jewish organisations. The difference? Anti-Israel sentiment motivates one boycott; anti-Palestinian sentiment motivates the other. (I could say ‘pro-Israel sentiment’, but really, when someone opposes a charity advert to support the victims of bombing, you have to wonder).

No doubt my question will offend those who wish to boycott the JC for its inclusion of the DEC advert. ‘How can we be self-haters?’ they will ask, ‘we don’t hate Israel; we love it!’

But that very response belies the stupidity with which the label ‘self-hating Jew’ is used, to imply that a Jew who opposes Israel must hate themselves or their Jewishness. It’s a label that wounds Jews with their own Jewish sensibilities – an approach which sounds, frankly, a little anti-Semitic.

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