No Smoke Without Fire
News media have lit a fire under West Dunbartonshire Council (WDC) and Dundee City Council (DCC) with allegations of anti-Semitic undertones to the Councils' motions on a boycott of goods and services emanating from (and only from) Israel. WDC and DCC may have track records of responding in similar fashion to humanitarian issues from around the world but they are imperceptible.
WDC, in a piece of political posturing, started the ball rolling back in January 2009 with a council motion on Israel which was passed unanimously. Introduced by Scottish Socialist Party councillor Jim Bollan, the motion read as follows:
This Council deplores the loss of life in Palestine which now numbers well over 1,000. This Council also recognises the disproportionate force used by the IDF in Palestine and agrees to boycott all Israeli goods as a consequence. Officers should immediately cease the purchase of any goods we currently source, which were made or grown in Israel. Officers should also ensure we procure no new goods or produce from Israel until this boycott is formally lifted by WDC.
The council was asked and agreed to inform other Scottish councils of their action but they were rebuffed by almost all. Dundee Council, while giving tacit support, watered down its response due to what it termed "legal concerns."
After the latest reports, protests started flowing in:
"This is not just anti-Israel, it is anti-knowledge. While everybody, including councils have the right to express opinions, this simply smacks of a closed minds and actually shuts down debate. I find the move pretty deplorable. “This reflects not so much on Israel, but on West Dunbartonshire Council".
Ken Macintosh MSP
"I am appalled by the actions of West Dunbartonshire Council. Quite disgraceful and typical of the misguided showmanship and gesture politicking inspired by fringe groups many of whom have a decidedly sinister agenda".
Jackson Carlaw MSP.
"While those behind the boycott will claim that this is not anti-Semitic, targeting the only Jewish state, a democracy, while ignoring serial human rights-abusing nations tells us that this is indeed anti-Semitic in intent and in effect. This demonstrates how far ‘respectable anti-Semitism’ has come. Clearly it has become acceptable to boycott and discriminate against Jews, as long as there is a thin veneer of anti-Zionism which purportedly covers the hateful act".
Moshe Kantor, President, European Jewish Congress .
So numerous and diverse were the complaints that West Dunbartonshire Council was shamed into issuing a denial:
West Dunbartonshire Council utterly refutes recent media claims that it has ‘launched a boycott on Israeli books’. The Council’s boycott does not in any way seek to censor or silence authors and commentators from Israel. The Council’s boycott only relates to goods ‘made or grown’ in Israel. The vast majority of mainstream books by Israeli authors are published in the UK and are therefore not affected by this boycott. Only books that were printed in Israel and transported to the UK for distribution would be potentially boycotted. In the two and a half years the boycott has been in place there has never been a case when the library service has been unable to purchase a book it wished to as a result of this boycott. Contrary also to some media reports the boycott is not retrospective and absolutely no books have been or will be removed from our library shelves as a consequence of the motion.
Unfortunately, the denial appeared simultaneously with a claim by Councillor Bollan,
"No censorship of any authors here, only a boycott of all Israeli companies,"
with a photograph of him holding books by Jewish authors Amos Oz and Chaim Potok. Councillor Bollan failed to realize that Chaim Potok is Jewish American and not Israeli. Apparently he conflates Jewish and Israeli. And fellow Councillor Jonthan McColl, the motion's co-sponsor, has indicated the boycott is only a boycott when it doesn't impact on his use of goods and services produced or grown in Israel.
However, even as councillors debate which Jewish authors should be banned, blatantly anti-Semitic publications--Hitler's Mein Kampf and Protocols of the Elders of Zion--are freely available or purchased on request at WDC libraries.