Boycott, protest or defend: responses to Israel's policies

September 1, 2011
Sarah Benton

There are four items in this posting 1) Ynet report on success of boycotts; 2) interview from 2010 with author of that report; 3) news report of protests at Israeli Philharmonic’s Prom concert on 1st September; 4) a pro-boycott piece written before concert by classical music blogger Jessica Duchen

Is BDS campaign working?
Ynetnews special: Anti-Israel boycotters increasingly successful in strangling economy of Jewish state: More than 20 organizations in Europe in 13 countries endorse boycott of Agrexco, Israel’s leading flower exporter

Giulio Meotti, Israel News

Many Israeli agricultural products have been recently targeted by the Israel boycott campaign: tomatoes, peppers, citrus fruit, carrots, melons, strawberries and celery. But the flowers have been the primary obsession of the divestment movement, which wants to strangle the Israeli economy.

Agrexco, Israel’s leading flower exporter, has recently declared bankruptcy, partially due to the global boycott of its produce, according to some reports. More than 20 organizations in Europe in 13 countries endorsed a boycott of Agrexco.

International pressure, boycotts and sanctions on South Africa’s apartheid government played a major role in ending its power. Modeled on that global campaign, the anti-Israel boycott movement has notched notable victories of late, while making use of an old Marxist lexicon (“imperialism,” “colonialism,” “occupation,” and “settler society”).

The first symbol of the anti-Israel economic campaign, Caterpillar, was far removed from the Western public consciousness. Yet Israeli roses were a better Jewish scapegoat, as flowers are a pillar of Israel’s economy (in the 1980s Israel became the world’s number two flower exporter. Agrexco was boycotted because it’s partially owned by the Israeli government and because the company has some farms in the Jordan Valley and in Tekoa, a settlement at the gates of the Judean desert.

Last year, Norway’s oil fund withdrew its investment from Africa-Israel and Danya Cebus citing their involvement in “settlement construction.” Just recently, the Swedish Coop has decided to terminate all purchases of Soda Stream carbonation devices. Meanwhile, the Methodist Church had passed an “anti-Israel” motion demanding a boycott of goods from “illegal” settlements. Quakers in Britain have also agreed to boycott Israeli products.

Elsewhere, major Dutch pension fund Pensioenfonds Zorg en Welzijn, which has investments totaling 97 billion euros, has divested from almost all the Israeli companies in its portfolio (banks, telecommunication companies, construction companies and Elbit Systems.) A large Swedish pension fund also divested from Elbit over the latter’s role in building Israel’s West Bank security fence. Meanwhile, the Ethical Council of four Swedish buffer pension funds urged Motorola “to pull out of the Israeli-occupied territories in the West Bank” or face divestment.

On the cultural front, a film festival in Scotland returned funding to the Israeli Embassy after succumbing to boycott activists who threatened to picket the event. Elsewhere, some major Indian artists have announced the boycott of a show scheduled at the Tel Aviv State Museum in the spring of 2012. Dozens of music stars also endorsed the boycott this past year (Elvis Costello, Gil Scott-Heron, Roger Waters).

Western universities infested
And there’s more: A major boycott is going to be approved soon at the Park Slope Food Coop, a renowned cooperative in Brooklyn, affecting Israeli paprika, bath salts, vegan marshmallows and the Soda Stream seltzer machine. Norway’s governmental pension and Germany’s Deutsche Bank divested from Elbit. The flagship London outlet of beauty company Ahava has been closed after years of protest. A Scottish council recently banned Israeli books from its public libraries. Eden Springs, the major Israeli water company, will not have its contract renewed by the famous London School of Economics.

The Hudson’s Bay Company, the oldest commercial corporation in North America, also discontinued sales of Ahava. Although this decision was made for “commercial reasons”, it coincided with an aggressive campaign by several groups advocating a boycott of Ahava.

Most of the Western universities are now infested with a virulent anti-Jewish mood. Students at Edinburgh University just voted in favor of a boycott of Israel. The University of Johannesburg has cut its links with Beersheba’s Ben-Gurion University. DePaul University’s Student Association approved a boycott of Sabra hummus. The French University of Aix en Provence cancelled a meeting with Israeli writer Esther Orner after a boycott by Arab authors. Alan Dershowitz recently charged that Norwegian universities are conducting “an implicit boycott of Israel.”

Several companies, primarily Swedish firm Assa Abloy, which runs Mul-T-Lock, and the partly Dutch-owned Wine Cellars, have pulled out of the Barkan industrial area, near the Israeli city of Ariel. The Spanish government disqualified Ariel University Center of Samaria from competing in the finals of the international contest between university architecture departments to build a self-sufficient house using solar power. The Norwegian EL & IT union, which represents thousands energy and telecommunications workers, has adopted a boycott of the Histadrut labor union federation.

Brazil’s largest trade union voted for the boycott and called for the suspension of Israeli-Brazilian economic agreements and military ties. French firm Veolia, which operated the light rail project in Jerusalem, sold its shares in the project. Deutsche Bahn just withdrew from the same project, with German transport Minister Peter Ramsauer offeringthe following reason for terminating the project: “Palestinian Foreign affairs Minister Riyad al-Malki, members of the German Parliament and media have criticized a project in which DB international is acting as adviser to Israel’s state-run railway.” Italian company Pizzarotti is now under pressure for the same train project.

When Italian stores last year announced the banning of Agrexco, the company’s director, Shimon Alchasov, rhetorically asked me: “Should I mark the products with a yellow star of David?” The late, great historian Raul Hilberg explained that the economic strangling of the Jews in business, education and employment was the first step in the Holocaust. Now the same “Raus mit Uns” (out with us) boycott is bleeding the State of Israel.

Giulio Meotti, a journalist with Il Foglio, is the author of the book A New Shoah: The Untold Story of Israel’s Victims of Terrorism

The Oral Historian of Israel’s Terror War
Interview with Giulio Meotti
By Michael J. Totten, Pajamas Media

Encounter Books recently published Italian journalist Giulio Meotti’s gut wrenching book A New Shoah: The Untold Story of Israel’s Victims of Terrorism. At first glance I thought his title might be over-the-top. Orders of magnitude more people were murdered in the Shoah—the Nazi Holocaust—than by terrorists in Israel, but that isn’t the point. What Israel’s victims of terrorism have in common with the victims of the Nazi genocide is that they were Jews who were murdered for being Jews.

Why else, after all, would a suicide bomber explode himself at Café Hillel in Jerusalem rather than at a military checkpoint in the West Bank or Gaza? Why else would Hamas fire rockets at kindergartens in Sderot instead of at army bases? And why else would Hezbollah lionize Samir Kuntar, a man who murdered a four year old girl by placing her head on a rock and smashing her skull with the butt of his rifle? And why would Hezbollah go all the way to Buenos Aires, Argentina, to blow up a Jewish community center with a truck bomb?

Meotti’s book is grim, but somebody needed to write it, and he’s the person who did. He and I spoke a few days ago.

MJT: So tell us why you wrote this book.

Giulio Meotti: What’s the difference between a Western democracy, such as France or the United States, and Israel’s democracy? It’s not the start-up nation, the job opportunities, the scientific progress, or the number of Nobel laureates. The most important difference between Israel and the other Western countries lies in the young men and women killed for what they are: Israelis living as free human beings in their historical homeland.

The Jewish state is the only member of the United Nations condemned to death. Its existence is the only one widely considered temporary by a large number of countries in the world. In 2003 I decided to investigate the great black hole that in the last fifteen years has snuffed out thousands of lives, Jews killed because they are Jews.

The book is the result of many years of research inside the painful heart and soul of Israel. There were no books devoted to this single dramatic question. I give a voice to dozens of families and survivors of terrorism who have been neglected by an arrogant media industry. I think the blood spilled by terrorism is the most precious and fragile story that Israel has today, a story that even Israeli writers have neglected.

MJT: Let’s talk about your title. Some potential readers might think comparing Israel’s victims of terrorism to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust is a bit much, not least because the scale is so different in size. I thought so myself at first, though that feeling went away by about page 8 or 9. Perhaps you could say something about it for those who haven’t read to page 8 or 9.

Giulio Meotti: First of all let me say that I will never accept lessons about the use of the word Shoah by those who are undermining the Jewish state every day with their rhetoric. In Europe the memory of the Holocaust has become a perfect stage for the bashers of Israel. There is a direct connection between the Nazi ideology and the Islamist agenda–I am thinking of the mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammad Amin al-Husseini, who fought with Hitler against the Jews, and also the genocidal Hamas charter. The Holocaust survivors killed in Israel by suicide bombings, rockets, and terror shootings are the living proof of this terrible link.

With this title I wanted to address something the chattering classes refuse to recognize: that the monstrous morality of anti-Semitism continues as an immortal beast behind the politically correct mask of anti-Zionism. A distorted notion of remembering and history separates the Holocaust–a pure symbol of evil–from Israel’s sixty year struggle for survival under war and terrorism. There is also the question of living under the pre-nuclear threat from Iran. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denies the truth of the Shoah in order to weaken Israel’s existence and to prepare the world for a new massacre by Hezbollah, Hamas, and possibly even a nuclear attack. The question of the Shoah, and that Jewish identity is again under massive attack, defines the world after the 9/11 attacks.

MJT: Do you see any difference between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, or would you say they are one and the same?

Giulio Meotti: Israel’s centrality for the future of the Jews is more than just a question of demography or religion. Israel represents Jewish survival. Before World War II there was a great debate in the Jewish world over Zionism. The Holocaust resolved that debate. Zionism became the solution to Jewish powerlessness and vulnerability. The Jewish future lay in self-defense, sovereign territory, and the ingathering of the exiles.

In my opinion a great problem today is that Israel’s legitimacy is questioned again by a huge number of Jewish intellectuals and writers: Tony Judt, George Steiner, Jacqueline Rose, Ilan Pappe, Norman Finkelstein, Tony Kushner, Eric Hobsbawm, Noam Chomsky, etc. They would like to resolve the Jewish dilemma by assimilation and the disappearance of the Jewish difference.

It’s both a naive and a violent idea. Every other people that has been conquered and exiled and annihilated as the Jews has in time disappeared. Only the Jews defied the norm. Twice. But never, I fear, again. Anti-Zionism is a sophisticated intellectual movement and it’s paving the way for a new anti-Semitic tragedy. That’s why I think it was important to write a history book that tells the stories of Israeli civilians killed by terrorism; fathers and mothers, kids and the elderly, soldiers and doctors. Their families tell us who these people were, their ideals, their faces, their names. The book is the incarnation of Israel’s trauma and future at a time when the Iranian ayatollahs and the Saudi Wahhabis have a large audience in Western newspapers, universities, and parliaments.

But Israel is fine. It demonstrates this with its booming economy, its medical sciences, and its children who are capable of sacrifice and a complex life between war and their love for peace. On Israel’s side there is life. Its enemies preach death.


Anti-Israel Protest Hits BBC Proms
By TIMW, Londonist

Political protest descended on the Royal Albert Hall last night. The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra’s Proms concert was interrupted by pro-Palestinian hecklers to the extent that BBC Radio 3’s live broadcast was taken off air.

Trouble had been anticipated. The Palestinian Solidarity Campaign encouraged a boycott of the concert, citing the orchestra’s relationship with the Israeli army. There were protests outside the hall from both camps, while the Proms management beefed up security in an attempt to keep out trouble-makers.
Unsurprisingly it was a futile attempt. Different pockets of protestors made a nuisance throughout the evening, with some holding up banners and singing Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. Around 30 were removed by security. Meanwhile, disgruntled Prommers booed the interruptions and the orchestra, and conductor Zubin Mehta, soldiered on.
This kind of protest is by no means new in classical music. Last year the Jerusalem Quartet was severely barracked at the Wigmore Hall in a similar demonstration. Ahead of this concert, musicians, including members of the London Philharmonic, wrote to the Independent stating their opposition to the Israel Philharmonic’s invitation to the Proms.
Commentators have been quick to condemn the protests though. Veteran classical music writer Norman Lebrecht blogged last night: “We now know that it is possible for two dozen well-organised agitators to wreck a cultural event at will. There is nothing that can be done to prevent them. Nor does it make any sense to engage with them in any meaningful way.”
For a thoughtful view on the whole issue, another classical music journalist, Jessica Duchen, has some interesting things to say.

Ten top things you need to understand about tonight’s Prom
Jessica Duchen, Jessica Duchen’s Classical Music Blog

The Israel Philharmonic is in town tonight to play at the Proms. People are spouting an awful lot of bunkum, so as I’ve seen this particular coin not only from both sides but in 3D, I’d like to put some of them straight. If you don’t want to know the score, look away now. (One disclaimer: this is my personal viewpoint, compiled entirely from my own experience, and does not reflect any opinions other than my own. This post is confined to JDCMB and is not associated with any of the publications for which I write.)

1. “But why didn’t anyone protest about orchestras from China, which has a lousy human rights record?”
Israel is personal in a way that China is not to us British Jews. Two reasons: first, we are inevitably associated with it – it’s our supposed “homeland”, whether it really is or not (mine is London, thanks); secondly, because of that we are expected to defend its every move. Many of us have now been to the West Bank or Gaza and what we see there is indefensible. We are not expected to defend the actions of China, ex-Libya, the Iraq or Afghanistan wars, etc, and those who do defend such things don’t bother trying to bludgeon us about it with revolting personal attacks.

2. “But it’s a purely musical engagement.”
The Israel Philharmonic is a flagship for its country. I’m afraid there’s no way round that.

3. “But it’s one of the world’s great orchestras.”
Yes, it is. And South African athletes were among the world champions somewhere around the 1980s. And I’d rather leave the Berlin Philharmonic in the 1930s out of this, because I don’t want to upset people.

4. “But it’s not the musicians’ fault.”
Right, no, it isn’t. Israel has indeed produced some of the world’s finest musicians. Some of their brave souls speak up against the Occupation and against settlement building. Some do much to encourage dialogue and cooperation through music. Now, perhaps some of the others could join in. You’ll notice that it’s Daniel Barenboim who’s up for the Nobel Peace Prize, not Zubin Mehta. Admittedly, it is very difficult for Israeli musicians to see for themselves what’s going on over the wall because it’s illegal for them to go there. Could that rule have been brought in for a reason? {Above: the Dome of the Rock glistens beyond the wall. Palestinians standing around where I was standing to take this photo have not been able to visit the Dome for many, many years, even though it’s within walking distance.}

5. “But you’re only giving one side of the story.”
Go to the West Bank and see what I saw. I’m a nice Jewish girl from Hampstead, for God’s sake. I’d been spouting all the don’t-you-dare-argue-back pro-Israel platitudes for four decades. By the end of a week in the West Bank, I felt so sickened by that thought that I could hardly eat. It’s very difficult to see or accept the realities of the situation from safe, sunny Britain, let alone Australia or the US. You do have to go there, spend time talking to people about their lives and live amongst them, even if only for a little while, in order to begin to turn around the dinosaur in your own head that has grown from our long-ingrained preconceptions and conditioning. And you need to see it now, not 50/40/30/20 years ago.

6. “It’s a fight about land. This is about music.”
The fight is not only about land; it is about sadism, often a low-grade, daily-bread form of sadism that chips away at the soul bit by bit, and that sometimes bursts out into something much worse. It’s about what one bunch of people does when it acquires power over another bunch of people. It would – and does – happen regularly in many parts of the world. Israel may be no worse than anywhere else, but it is also no better. This behaviour, tragically, is what human nature is about. {Above: in East Jerusalem.}

7. “The musicians who wrote to a newspaper yesterday protesting about the Prom shouldn’t have done it. None of them is well-known and they’re just seeking attention.”
Of course they’re seeking attention – for an important world issue that does not get enough notice. Naturally nobody seriously considers this, appearing the day before the Prom, as ‘taking action to make the BBC cancel the concert’ – the concert was planned months, if not years before… This just a letter in a paper, like a great many others.

8. “Why does music have to get dragged into this at all?”
Yes, it’s a shame – because the question of Israel and the Palestinians is way too important to be reduced to mudslinging around a concert. Activists don’t always help their own cause – after all, the lady who stood up and started singing during a Wigmore Hall concert by the Jerusalem Quartet merely gave the other side an A1 perfect excuse to dismiss all pro-Palestinians as nutcases. This is tragic. The issue need to get sorted on the world stage – otherwise somebody, sooner or later, is going to go up in flames.

9. “Music can help bring people together.”
You bet it can. And walls were built to be, someday, pulled down. We have to remember that.

10. “So what the hell are you going to do about it?”
I want to do positive things, not negative ones. I want to support musical education whenever I can, to show what music can do for children living in straitened circumstances, to forge dialogue, to champion the hard graft of the underrecognised who follow their ideals by bringing music as an augury for peace.

Hence the project with Fifth Quadrant, The Road to Jericho, Al Kamandjati, Ramzi et al. Hence my trip with Tom last year. I believe the pen is mightier than the hand grenade and that those who learn to play musical instruments will find them a very good alternative to guns when it comes to keeping their own spirits intact. I know there are problems of all kinds on the Palestinian side – that is undeniable – but I still think the Israel lobby may not realise its own innocence, its complete naivety. Sight unseen, we’ve been manipulated into defending the indefensible. I wonder what percentage of them, if they did the journey I did, place for place, person for person, day for day, would emerge feeling exactly the same afterwards as they did before?

I’m not one of Howard Jacobson’s “ashamed Jews”. I’m proud of my Jewish heritage, as I always have been. No, I am an outraged Jew, a furious one, to think that such sadism is being foisted day after day on innocent people, supposedly in our name. Not in my name. Not in Tom’s. His grandparents didn’t lose their lives in the Holocaust in order for our surviving relations to oppress other people. I want Israel to be great. I want it to be the wonderful, idealistic, beautiful, peaceful place I was always told it was when I was a kid. But the reality is different and I can’t pretend otherwise any more. So I am not going to hear the Israel Philharmonic tonight.

It would have been better if Roger hadn’t invited them in the first place, but he has, and that’s his choice, a decision made on musical grounds and not political ones. I am sure the concert will be absolutely brilliant and that the musicians are wonderful people and wonderful players, and the audience will have a wonderful time. But it’s my personal choice not to touch it with a barge-pole. This is what freedom means. Enjoy the music.

Note: this post went up the morning before the IPO Prom took place, so it’s not a response to what happened that evening – an event that regrettably has probably obliterated my attempt at introducing a voice of reason here on JDCMB, and went far beyond the likely trouble I’d thought would happen… I haven’t much to add now, except that I deplore the disruption inside the hall at the Prom and consider it counterproductive to its own cause; and that nobody, other than conductor, soloist and musicians, has come out of it terribly well. For sensible after-the-event commentary, I recommend Dennis Marks and Entartete Musik. And also this letter from a Palestinian musician about the incident, which Norman Lebrecht has published on Slipped Disc.

Five comments:
James said…
A thoughtful and thought provoking beacon of light, amid the fear and anger that surrounds Palestine. Thank you.
12:04 PM
UridisC said…
I do so much agree with everything you have said in you blog.

It does need to be pointed out that many people who longed, yearned and fought for Israel and to settle in Israel over the years are now in despair at the way policy is being exercised in the West Bank and in Gaza.

Also, that we who have the privilege of the freedom of seeing and hearing what is happening on both sides of the wall – or is it still called a fence? – should exercise our ability to open eyes which remain blinkered by long established custom

Uri Liebrecht
12:43 PM
Evan Tucker said…
I don’t want to contribute to the poisonous atmosphere that always ensues when people debate this issue. But I have lived in Israel, and unfortunately, I’ve seen the West Bank many times. I’ve had much experience of the people on both sides and would like to think myself extremely sympathetic to both sides. Israel has been run by everything from great leaders to war criminals. But the criticism of people like those who interrupted tonight’s concert will stay the same regardless of how Israel acts. And the fact that you imply that an analogy between Israel and Nazi Germany is appropriate fills me with enormous sadness.

The world will cry all the same crocodile tears if Israel’s Jews are wiped as they did when Hitler killed 6 million of our extraction: including my aunt. Israel, as it always has been, remains the Jew among nations. Subject to a moral double standard to which no other nation is subject. The world’s pornographic interest in Jewish moral failure continues unabated. I do hope that at some point the thought occurs to you that perhaps some of those who interrupted yet another concert of great Israeli musicians were encouraged to do so by reading your post. It makes me very sad to see yet another great cultural critic like yourself swayed by the double standards of radical chic.

Still your faithful reader,

12:33 AM
Jessica said…
Evan, I’m not sure you read my post. I am never swayed by “radical chic” – I was talking only about my personal reaction to my own experience in 2010, which was one of the most painful of my life. People frequently raise the double standards issue, so I wanted to explain why Israel feels personal when other situations don’t.

As regards the protests in the hall, I mentioned that I felt the incident at the Wigmore last year was counter-productive as it risked making all pro-Palestinians look like nutcases. Contrary to your suggestion, I’d hoped that that might in fact deter any readers from doing the same last night.

I made it clear that I didn’t agree with the Wigmore incident. I don’t agree with this one. What I saw happening in the West Bank is wrong. What happened at the Prom is wrong. And two wrongs don’t make a right. The political situation needs sorting, urgently, and that sorting is not going to happen in a concert hall.
8:02 AM
Jessica said…
Evan, another update: this link explains who did and how, and it seems they bought loads of tickets months ago (scroll down to ‘Notes for Editors’). Nothing whatever to do with my post.
8:41 AM


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