Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Fighting the oldest hatred

Fighting the oldest hatred

Judith Bergman

Many people around the world feel that they would like to act against the current rise in anti-Semitism ‎and the boycott, divest and sanctions movement against Israel -- the latest variation on the theme of the "oldest hatred."

But if you are not a diplomat or the head of a large organization with a lot of time and money on your ‎hands, what can you do in the face of what sometimes seems an overwhelming task?

Actually, a great ‎deal.‎

Surprisingly, it need be neither very difficult nor particularly time-consuming to fight the BDS movement.‎

What is most important to keep in mind is that the aim of any anti-BDS effort, however small, is two-fold: ‎One is to change the way that Israel is perceived around the world, including in your local community. The ‎smearing campaign of Israel has been quite successful, resulting in a grossly distorted view of Israel across ‎a large number of countries, especially in the Western world. ‎

The other is to expose the hypocrisy of the BDS movement, which targets Israel, but not the countless ‎undemocratic and indeed murderous regimes around the world, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and ‎many others.‎

Another thing that is important to keep in mind: The fight against BDS should be proactive. Your efforts should never be limited to ‎reacting to a BDS campaign, although efforts against concrete BDS campaigns are, of course, crucial. The ‎aim should be to pre-empt the efforts of the BDS movement.‎

Any fight begins with baby steps. A war of this kind is never won on the first day, hardly ever in the first ‎month, and probably will not be decisively won in the first couple of years. Forget about seeing quick ‎results. You are in this for the long haul.‎

Remember that stores care very much about what their customers ‎want. There is a wealth of action waiting to be taken in the supermarkets, drugstores and other ‎shopping outlets in your area. Inquire after Israeli products regularly. Ask for Israeli fruits and vegetables ‎‎-- Israel produces excellent organic produce as well -- but do not ask just for that. Go to the shops that sell ‎beauty products, even online shops, and ask them for Israeli products. Ahava is perhaps ‎the most known of these, but Israel produces many others. Go to the kitchen appliance ‎shop and ask for SodaStream. If they do not market it, ask them to do so in the future. Get all your ‎friends and family involved, and double, triple or quadruple your efforts. Make it a whole community ‎effort of your synagogue, church or local football team.‎

If consumers demand and repeatedly inquire after Israeli products, stores will pay attention. ‎Perhaps not the first time, not even the second time, but they will not want to ignore consistent ‎demands for particular Israeli products in the long run. Demand and supply is as valid as ever in this ‎respect.‎

However, actively asking for Israeli products need not be limited to physical products. Israel has a rich and ‎exuberant cultural scene, consisting of talented dancers, musicians, singers, actors and filmmakers. At the ‎beginning of June, an attempt by British filmmakers Ken Loach and Mike Leigh along with 39 other ‎signatories to boycott the London Israeli Film and Television Festival in London was rejected by the large ‎British theater chain Curzon Cinemas.‎

‎"Curzon Cinemas hosts many festivals throughout the year, including the Human Rights Watch film ‎festival, the London film festival and festivals representing regions from around the world, including the ‎Kinoteka Polish film festival, the Romanian film festival and many more. ... We have not previously ‎considered asking questions about the funding of a festival booked at one of our cinemas, and we do not ‎consider booking a festival as any kind of political comment," said a company statement quoted by The ‎Guardian.‎

Israeli television series are among the best and most popular in the world, and several of them have been sold to ‎Hollywood, where they have been remade as American TV series. "Hatufim" was remade with a slightly different content as one of the most highly rated American TV shows, ‎‎"Homeland." The series "Betipul" was remade into "In Treatment," starring Gabriel Byrne and Dianne Wiest. ‎

Curzon Cinemas obviously did not want to lose out in this regard. ‎

You can also help bring Israeli culture -- film, television and other performing arts -- to your country and ‎your area, by actively asking for it. Theatres, cinemas, concert halls and libraries host a plethora of foreign ‎acts in their halls, and if you don't see any Israeli names there you should contact those cultural venues in ‎your area and ask them, if they would like to bring Israeli acts there -- and if not, why not? Again, by ‎creating a demand, it becomes so much easier for those venues -- such as Curzon Cinemas -- to say no to ‎the boycotters and stand by the Israeli performers that they have booked. Simultaneously, by displaying ‎more Israeli acts, these venues will be helping to promote Israeli culture abroad. ‎

You should not stop there, however. Because the aim, as mentioned before, is not only to clear Israel's ‎name of all the damage that has been done to it in the past many years. It is also to expose the ‎endless hypocrisy of the BDS movement and indeed of the stores who choose to succumb to it by not ‎marketing Israeli products. Many supermarkets, especially in Europe, sell fruits from regimes such as Iran. Ask ‎these supermarkets why they have no qualms selling produce from countries where women have no ‎rights, political prisoners are summarily executed, and homosexuals are hanged from cranes, while ‎they refuse to sell Israeli avocados or oranges.‎

Then there are those times when it turns nasty and an actual BDS campaign is launched against ‎a particular store or venue. This happens too frequently in Europe, but increasingly in other places as well. ‎It is important to stay in the know about such campaigns so that you can react if they happen. One way to ‎do that is to sign up for information from one of the many Jewish organizations, such as StandWithUs, who ‎do tremendous work to counter the BDS movement, or to ask to receive information from your local ‎Israeli embassy. They will frequently post about such campaigns, along with lists of emails and phone ‎numbers of the shop or venue in question, where one can call or send a complaint.‎

One recent example of a BDS attempt that was defeated was the Swedish supermarket chain COOP, ‎which has over 600 branches across Sweden. A few months ago, there was a BDS move to boycott ‎Israeli products in this chain, but the move was protested so vehemently by pro-Israel ‎activists, who called and threatened to boycott the chain if it continued its boycott against ‎Israel, that the boycott was abandoned. Israeli Ambassador to Sweden Isaac Bachman, who became ‎involved, said that "we didn't talk about the righteousness of Israel, rather we spoke in the name of fair ‎trade and avoiding discrimination of any state."‎

This is very crucial. Pro-Israeli activists are often drawn into long and nasty debates about who is wrong ‎and right in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but it is rare for these debates to have any positive ‎outcomes in the sense of making any constructive difference. The ambassador's argument -- fair trade ‎and nondiscrimination against any state -- is much more efficient, since it is so obvious. Boycotting a democratic state like Israel goes against every principle of free and fair trade.‎

There are undoubtedly countless other ways in which to counter the oldest hatred in its current form. ‎However, just choosing one of the many ways mentioned above has the potential of making a real ‎difference to Israel.

It is up to you.‎

Judith Bergman is a writer and political analyst living in Israel.

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