by Gilles d'Aymery
"...For the perfection of things must be measured by their inner nature, and things are not more or less perfect because they please our senses or they offend them."
—Benedict de Spinoza (1632-1677)"It's the imperfectly selfish souls that cause themselves and others so many heart-burnings. People who make half sacrifices for others always find that it's the unfinished half that's being looked at."
—Saki, The Watched Pot, 1924
(Swans - February 23, 2009) BOYCOTTING ISRAEL, ETC., ETC., ETC. A reader asks in regard to my piece, "Walking Away From Israel Made Easier": "Aren't you concerned that by calling for a boycott of Israeli products you are emboldening those who want to boycott all Jewish stores (particularly in Europe)? And what about the BDS [Boycott, Divest, Sanction] movement that Naomi Klein advocates the US government should impose? Are you on board?"
HEY THANKS, dear reader. Want me scalped? Want to see my computer under another virus attack? (Has happened before...) Want to see good ol' Art Shay kick my ass once more? More hate mail? What's to be gained by addressing that Israeli-made nightmare? Compared to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the worldwide economic tsunami looks benign! I've not changed my mind in many years, from the time I wrote the "Israeli-Palestinian And American Sad Minuet" (March 2002) and "Blackmailing Palestinians: Plucked, Cooked, Baked And Packaged" (May 2002). The BDS movement, in my own opinion, ought to be more concerned with the logical Israeli next step (when events permit; i.e., chaos on the world scene): The total transfer of the Palestinians (Israeli and Occupied) to neighboring Arab countries. The best that could happen in this untidy history is to see Abraham, Allah, and Jesus (in no particular order) get into a friendly gathering and decide to send Zeus's wrath upon that little piece of real estate, drowning it into the Mediterranean Sea. Equal opportunity solution: They all would have to swim to safety or perish in good company. Sorry for the dark humor, but one gets tired after a (long) while.
ANYWAY AND MORE SERIOUSLY (if seriousness is worthy of one's attention), so it goes: I wrote about a personal decision to boycott Israeli-made products and services. A personal decision should not be conflated with a call to the barricades. Neither do I conflate Israeli-made products and services with "Jewish stores." Israel is not the flag-bearer of Judaism around the world. Sorry, I do make a significant difference between Israel and Judaism, as do an increasing number of Jewish people worldwide. When I go to a store I do not look for the owner's "ethnic" (a horrendous concept), religious, or cultural background. I look for a product I need or want to purchase, independent of the store's ownership. All I said is that if a product (or service) is Made-in-Israel, I will not buy it, whether it's sold in a Jewish or a Christian or a Muslim or an Atheist store. In other words, to be quite precise: When I walk into a store to purchase food for my dogs, I couldn't care less about the ownership of the store. I only care that the purchase I make is not originating in Israel. Please do not conflate the issues.
AS TO BDS, an acronym that resembles a brand of underwear, it looks to me like a lot of hot air coming from constipated bowels and self-serving feel-gooders who have absolutely no influence on the actualities being implemented by the Israelis on the ground (ethnic cleansing and colonialism -- stealing land, expelling people whenever possible; dominating, humiliating, crushing human beings). Being inconsequential at best, laughed at, or ostracized, one is left shouting from the comfort of one's keyboard and cozy office, working hard to sell one's latest book -- a condition Naomi Klein seems to epitomize.
NOW, IF I WERE on a college faculty I would strongly advocate divesting all investment funds that include corporations that do business with Israel; specifically, any company that provides products and services that help the Israeli state to maintain its stranglehold on the occupied West Bank and Gaza (including East Jerusalem) and expand the dreaded Israeli settlements -- a racist and colonial project -- in the Occupied Territories. Ditto, if I had investments in a pension fund. The objective is to indeed hit the bottom line of these companies. It's telling them that their business dealings will have consequences. It's called responsible social investing. Let's invest in projects that are life-enhancing and not profit from death-making, land-grabbing, ethnic-cleansing enterprises, which is what Israel is engaged in year after year, decade after decade. The same way I would advocate not investing a penny in companies that destroy our environment (e.g., ADM, nuclear/coal/oil industry, etc.) or support our war machinery. Do not put your dwindling savings in endeavors that you condemn and oppose. It's as simple as that. The folks at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA, exemplify what needs to take place. The college is the first institution of higher learning to have chosen to divest from companies that are involved with the Israeli insane and inhuman policies. Interestingly, this very college was the very first one to divest from companies that were dealing with the South African Apartheid regime as far back as 1977.
IF YOU THINK IT'S pure symbolism that won't have any effect, think again. Why would the likes of Alan Dershowitz and Martin Peretz get in crisis mode and call for boycotting Hampshire? These dinosaurs of the Israel über alles brigades know full well that corporations only care about their bottom lines. Money talks. Hit where it hurts -- the pocket book! Once it hurts too much they'll change their practices. And remember this has nothing to do with Judaism and all to do with the inhuman and racist policies conducted by a state, Israel. Again, do not conflate Judaism and Israel, whatever the PR game of the past 60 years has ingrained in the fabric of our Western societies. And stop feeling guilty about the Holocaust. This atrocity occurred, but those of us who were born after this horrible event ought not to be held responsible for that human tragedy. I was born in 1950. My father spent part of the war in Buchenwald. We can't be held responsible. Period. What we must endeavor is that our fellow humans are simply that, our fellows. This includes all people of different religions and backgrounds, including the Palestinians of Christian and Muslim descent. All people, you hear? Not just one people that has deviated from the fundamental tenet of Judaism, that life is sacred and all lives take preponderance upon one's own -- a deep, fundamental tenet that the Israelis, but for a fast-disappearing tiny minority, have long forgotten and put aside in the Occupied Territories.
JUDAISM is not at stake here. Human Rights are. Though still a minority, a growing number of Jewish Americans is shouting "Not in Our Name," supporting the divestment movement, and manifesting its opposition to the Israeli racist and expansionist project. Something is happening within Jewish communities all around the U.S. and the world. When a French novelist, Jean-Moïse Braitberg, writes to the president of Israel and officially requests that the name of his grandfather, Moshe Brajtberg, and other members of his family who died in the Holocaust be removed from the Wall at Yad Vashem, the memorial dedicated to the memory of Jewish victims in WWII (read the letter in French or in English); when a professor of philosophy in Canada, Michael Neumann, and his sister Osha Neumann, a defense lawyer in California, make the same request in no uncertain terms -- that the name of their grandmother, Gertrud Neumann, be removed from the Wall, one senses that there is a sea change in the making. A multitude of voices that says: "Enough is enough. We are humans, of all backgrounds, and we are tired of standing by when other members of the human species treat our fellows like cockroaches or monkeys. Enough is enough!"
ONE SHOULD HOPE that Michele Obama, who was born in a world of racism that has yet to abate, will have the ear of her husband. Perhaps President Obama will at long last make a difference. One can always hope, right? (As an aside, I'd strongly recommend that readers who are touched by or sensitized to the horrors that are happening in the Occupied Territories, far away from the main media print and broadcast news, regularly visit the blog maintained by Philip Weiss. I may not agree with all of his views, but he does follow with great assiduity, sensibility, and sensitivity, the ongoing tragedy that is only getting worse in that cursed land.)
AS TO ACADEMIC BOYCOTT AND ECONOMIC SANCTIONS, I oppose them, proving once again that I am a contrarian and a spoilsport, or, as the French say, un empêcheur de danser en rond. Yes, lots of people agitate for putting into effect those harsh practices but it does not mean that their advocacy should be followed in lockstep -- and such harsh practices, just because they are used elsewhere, do not make them right. Yes, Alan Dershowitz, Martin Peretz, and their ilk are profusely lobbying for boycotts against any academic institution (e.g., Hampshire College) or intellectual (e.g., Finkelstein, Tutu, Joel Kovel, et al.), but that's no reason to replicate or emulate such a condemnable modus operandi. That they want to shut down voices that dissent from their mindset should not be reciprocated. We need to talk, to converse, to listen, even if their views are antinomic to our own. We may not bring them to our side -- and only hard realities will (hence products and services boycotts, and divestment) -- but by shutting the door we'll only reinforce the fortress mentality in which they function. The more you ostracize them the more they will circle the wagons. If you object to the Dershowitz approach, do not turn the table by acting like him. My other obvious argument against this kind of boycott is that it begins with intellectuals and members of academia, but it opens the door to other professions -- say athletes, like this young Israeli tennis player, Shahar Peer, who, appallingly, was denied a visa by the government of Dubai and could not participate in the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships earlier this month. Once the genie is out of the bottle, history teaches that it's hard to put it back.
MY OPPOSITION TO economic sanctions goes even deeper than my objection to academic boycotts. It goes back almost half a century ago, to my own making. Regretfully, my father was afflicted with what I would call an authoritarian-abusive personality disorder. He was yet another "decider." If I did not behave according to his liking I had to pay a price -- and it was always a price. When it was not the stick that he used profusely, or in addition to it, he would castigate me by, for instance, not giving any gift for Christmas. "You didn't deserve it," he would assert. During my formative years and my early teens, he would refuse to give me money to either buy some meaningless carambars (candies of the caramel family), or, worse, to buy a book I wanted to read, which led me to steal his daily pocket change and become quite adept at lifting books and candies. The older and more dissenting I got (mid teens) the more he cut the purse strings. Then, eventually and quite ironically, in my early twenties, since I was still dissenting, objecting, and having a life of my own, he offered me money not to see him again, and asked as a bonus that I not be his son anymore. I could get dough so long as I would change my name and stay away for good from his little bourgeois and self-contented, and self-righteous self. Do you people understand economic sanctions?
THE ISSUE WITH economic sanctions, beside my own past experience, is that the advocates of such policies against the state of Israel were the first ones to condemn the economic sanctions against the state of Iraq. Deux poids, deux mesures do not cut it in my book. I am so tired of people who raise (or raised) their voices against the sanctions exacted against Cuba, Zimbabwe, Serbia, Iraq, the Sudan, Iran, etc., and turn around and campaign for sanctions against Israel. I desperately keep in mind Spinoza: "...For the perfection of things must be measured by their inner nature, and things are not more or less perfect because they please our senses or they offend them."
ECONOMIC SANCTIONS have not once affected regime change -- not once -- but they've always harmed the population. Why would you want to hurt the Israeli people? Why did you not want to hurt the Iraqi people? Why do you object to hurting the Iranian people or the Cuban people? Just because you "believe" the cause is just, then economic sanctions become the politically correct tool to advance your agenda, right? This contradictory and poorly-thought-out approach reminds me much too much of Dershowitz and his ilk -- not a company with which I'll ever associate.
BOYCOTT PRODUCTS Made-in-Israel -- a personal decision that is part of a legitimate civil society and disobedience movement. Divest from all corporations that deal with Israel's abject policies. But keep the door open to debate and certainly do not advocate policies that in other circumstances you oppose. Please be intellectually (if not emotionally) consistent.
JUST TIRED OF IT ALL, to be frank. I am more concerned about polar bears' survival, the disappearance of Chinook salmon and other fisheries, the rapid degradation of our ecosystem, the hundreds of millions of our brothers and sisters, who from Africa to Asia are literally dying, than I am about that little place in the Middle East that keeps holding the world hostage to its insanity. Perhaps one of these days people will realize how much Général de Gaulle was right on target during his press conference of November 1967 (in French). Enough said.
HERE IS A little humor to lighten the atmosphere and move on...
A STUDS TERKEL STORY: A Memorial for Studs Terkel took place in the Great Hall at Cooper Union, New York City, on December 7, 2008, to celebrate the famous author and radio personality who died on October 31, 2008 at the age of 96. (It was aired or re-aired on C-SPAN 2 on February 14, 2009.) Among the speakers were Stetson Kennedy, Howard Zinn, and Walter Mosley. Mosley, a novelist and great storyteller, ended his speech by recounting this tale that Studs had told him. Studs was sitting in the dark when a burglar broke into his Chicago house. Thinking he was alone, the burglar turned the light on, saw Studs sitting still, and immediately switched off the light to hide his face. Studs reflected that the burglar was a good looking, well-built young man and that the burglar was more scared that he was. (Studs was 86 at the time.) They began to talk and came to an understanding. Studs reached into his pocket and tended all the money he had to the young man. As the burglar was on his departure in a hurry, Studs told him: "But, you know, you are leaving me flat broke. I have no money left..." And the burglar gave him $20 back. -- And Mosley, leaving the stage concluded: "Studs Terkel!" (The video can be accessed at http://www.booktv.org/watch.aspx?ProgramId=PL-10060 -- Mosley's story appears at about the 1 hour and 40 minutes mark.)
JEWISH HUMOR will always save the day -- at least, I hope so...
. . . . .
C'est la vie...
And so it goes...
La vie, friends, is a cheap commodity, but worth maintaining when one can. Supporting the life line won't hurt you much, but it'll make a heck of a difference for Swans.