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Is it antisemitic to boycott Israeli goods because of Israel's brutal assault on Gaza?

Is Michael Gove right that too many people are now conflating legitimate criticism of Israel's general policies with straightforward antisemitism?

Protesters who are boycotting Israeli goods over Gaza need to be reminded that the Nazi campaign against Jewish goods ended with a campaign against Jewish lives, says senior Tory Michael Gove. Too many people are now conflating legitimate criticism of Israel's general policies with straightforward antisemitism, he said. Letters to the Guardian (10 September 2014), from among others, Gerald Kaufman MP, playwright Caryl Churchill and Walter Wolfgang, member of Stop the War Coalition steering committee, took Gove to task for his confusion between antisemitism and anti-Zionism.

Replies to Michael Gove

I do not need Michael Gove to explain to me what antisemitism is (Gove attacks ‘antisemitic’ Israel boycotts, 10 September). I have been the object of antisemitism by two Conservative MPs, Sir Charles Taylor, who told me to “Get back to Tel Aviv”, and Sir Alec Douglas-Home, who admonished me that my loyalty should be to this country and not to Israel, bringing the proceedings of the House of Commons to a roaring halt. Harold Macmillan referred to me antisemitically in his diaries.

Of course the Holocaust, the Nazi slaughter of 6 million Jews, including many members of my family, was an atrocity unparalleled in human history. That does not provide justification for the Israelis murdering thousands of Palestinians. Since governments take no action against these massacres, it is right that communities and individuals should boycott Israeli products.
Gerald Kaufman MP
Labour, Manchester Gorton

• Mr Gove creates the all-too-common (and deliberate?) confusion between antisemitism and anti-Zionism. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS) is symbol of opposition to the policies of the state of Israel’s policies, in relation to the occupation, the continued building of settlements, the imprisonment of children and the murderous attacks on Gaza.

There should never be any devaluation of the Holocaust, and antisemitism should always be resolutely resisted. Very unfortunately some protesters also confuse antisemitism and anti-Zionism. Where Mr Gove is right is that “we need to stand united against hate” – but that of course includes Palestinians, and even Hamas, who are at least partially a product of Zionism. BDS should continue and grow, including a total arms embargo, until Israel is willing to seriously negotiate with all Palestinians, including Hamas. That was how the original apartheid state was brought to the table, with the hated ANC, and that is what needs to happen again.
Rev David Haslam
Evesham, Worcestershire

• Michael Gove needs to be reminded that one case is not a reliable basis for generalisation. Yes, the Nazi boycott of Jewish goods was followed by the Holocaust but the campaign against South African apartheid was not followed by the mass killing of whites. He also needs to be more careful in his assertions: the Tricycle theatre did not reject “Israeli money” because it came from Israel but because it came from the government of Israel, which is instrumental in the denial of Palestinian human rights and the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. The Palestinian call for the boycott of Israel is absolutely clear in its opposition to all forms of racism.
Professor David E Pegg
York

• Antisemites and defenders of Israel seem united in the delusion that opposition to Israel means hatred of Jews. Most people, I hope, can see the difference. Responsible politicians and commentators should make it clear that many Jews and non-Jews are critical of Israel’s policies without being antisemitic, and not fuel this dangerous fallacy.
Caryl Churchill
London

• Avi Shlaim’s excellent article explains why Israel’s current policies cannot bring it peace or security. The article’s flaw is the unspoken assumption that Israel wants peace and security. Since 1948, Israel’s aim has, demonstrably, been ever greater expansion by means of dispossessing Palestinians. The map of military conquests and settlements in the West Bank, including down the Jordan Valley, show over time how well that aim has been realised – and continues to be realised. Israel wants not peace and security but Palestinian, Arab and world acquiescence in this continual expansion. The various “peace processes” have nothing to do with peace and everything to do with providing a smokescreen to this end.
Mike Davies
Chair, Alliance for Green Socialism

• I am a Jew, committed to the Jewish religion and the ethical values of justice, mercy and compassion. As such, I deplore the Israeli aggression against the people of Gaza. I hope that the present ceasefire will eventually lead to a wider agreement.

It has come to my attention that the deputy lord mayor of Cardiff, Cllr Ali Ahmed, has been reported to the south Wales police by the Liberal Democrat opposition, on the grounds that he referred to rockets fired by Hamas against Israel as “toy rockets” and that this reference was offensive to the Jewish community.

It would have been preferable, that instead of using the words “toy rockets”, he has said that “the damage done by Israel is not comparable with the Israeli bombing on the people of Gaza”; that may have been more explanatory. However, the sentiments that he expressed are the sentiments shared, not only by many Jews like myself but also of some Israelis with regard to their own government.

There is no need for the deputy lord mayor to resign. He is a man who has a strong commitment to ethical principles.
Walter Wolfgang
Former member, Labour party NEC; vice-president, CND; national steering committee member, Stop the War Coalition

• One night, when I was 13, I was woken by the sound of a door being broken down. Boots stumbled up the stairs, there was loud shouting, and a terrifying series of crashes. Nazi stormtroopers had identified our house as the home of a Jewish family, and this was the night of 9 November 1938, when the Kristallnacht pogrom raged across Germany. Our entire home was destroyed before our eyes, with axes and sledgehammers.

I have a vivid recollection of my father, after the monsters had gone, sitting on the one chair that remained and weeping. I had never seen him weep before. I now realise that, but for the presence of myself and my younger sister, my parents might not have survived the raid. It was a brutal demonstration of our situation. My sister and I left Germany on the last Kindertransport from Düsseldorf in May 1939. We have never had a full account of our parents’ fate.

Even now, I sometimes start up in bed, reliving that night. But in recent weeks, it is more often images of devastation in Gaza – of homes and families destroyed in Israeli targetings of such “military objectives” as the homes of officials in the democratically elected Hamas government – that have recalled the terror of the Kristallnacht. For I can hardly believe that a Jewish government is doing these things. How can Jewish people, aware of their own history, undertake a campaign of collective punishment that kills a higher multiple of the casualties cited as justification, than did the Nazi reprisals for resistance in occupied Europe?

Surely we have reached the point where every government not composed of utter humbugs must join in insisting that an Israeli renunciation of ambitions for expansion beyond the 1947 boundaries is a prerequisite for progress towards reconciliation and peace within a two-state solution. The very doubtful prospect of a unified, multinational, secular state in Palestine appears to be the only alternative.
Karola Regent
Newport-on-Tay, Fife

Source: The Guardian

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