An opinion piece in the Telegraph on Tuesday hit the nail on the head. Columnist Brandon O’Neil asked readers to imagine a supermarket manager trying to appease a number of racist customers by firing the “offensive” black employees.
Imagine what outrage there would have been. But that is exactly what happened over the weekend when Britain’s third-largest supermarket chain, Sainsbury’s, removed the kosher products at its central London store in Holborn when facing a protest against Israel’s actions in the Gaza Strip.
On the surface, the absurdity of the move is almost comical.
Let’s take away the matza ball mix so the anti-Israel rabble won’t trash our store. As O’Neil went on to write, however, kosher food is not Israeli, it is part of Jewish dietary requirements, and banning kosher products is an attack on Jews and their right to follow their religion.
That distinction did not prevent other anti-Israel protesters from damaging a range of kosher products on the shelf at a Birmingham branch of Britain’s largest supermarket, Tesco. Apparently supporting a “free Gaza,” as the protesters demanded, is predicated on depriving shoppers of Hebrew National hot dogs.
The distinction between opposition to Israel’s actions during Operation Protective Edge and blatant anti-Semitism disguised as legitimate protest has grown increasingly blurred in the past month. The Sainsbury debacle is only the latest example of anti-Israel equals anti-Jewish thought creeping into public discourse around the world.
In a report released last week, the Anti-Defamation League reported a “dramatic surge” in global anti-Semitic incidents that had “metastasized” since the beginning of Protective Edge. The majority of the incidents occurred in Europe, but others were reported in South Africa, Australia, Turkey, Canada, Morocco and several Latin American countries. Among the displays were physical assaults on Jews, threats to and intimidation of Jewish shops, damage to synagogues, public hate speech, declarations invoking blood libels and Nazi atrocities, and anti-Semitic political cartoons.
The ADL reported that while many of the incidents were tenuously tied to the Gaza operation, they quickly spiraled into general anti-Jewish rhetoric, and in some cases, violence.
Fire bombs were thrown at the security booth of a Jewish community center in Toulouse, France, on July 26, and at a synagogue in Wuppertal, Germany, on July 29.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Monday, Oren Segal, the director of ADL’s Center on Extremism, said a narrative has developed that does not distinguish between Israelis and Jews “It’s one thing to express your criticism, your anger, of Israeli military operations or of Israeli policies. But when trying to do that you interchangeably use Israelis or Jews, it then becomes a different narrative,” he said.
That disturbing narrative is clear, even when it purports to be exclusively about Israel, such as the declaration of an “Israel-free zone” in Bradford, England, made earlier this month by Respect Party MP George Galloway. He envisioned a Bradford without any “Israeli goods... Israeli services... Israeli academics... and Israeli tourists.” Presumably Jews are invited, as long as they do not keep kosher.
Ambassador to the UK Daniel Taub traveled into the eye of the storm on a visit to Bradford on Monday, and he found a far different reality than the one Galloway outlined.
In his speech Taub gave to a gathering there and made available to the Post, he said that he had a chance to hear the “real voice” of Bradford. “And that’s a voice of tolerance, of understanding, of building bridges not breaking them.”
Calling Galloway’s “Israel-free zone” what is it – a “tolerance- free zone, a progress-free zone, a future-free zone,” Taub said the campaign against Israel was a coalition of haters.
“As long as they are shouting about what they are against, Israel or the West, that coalition sort of hangs together. But when you ask: But what are you for? Are you for women’s rights? Are you for gay rights? Are you for freedom of expression? Then, all of a sudden, that coalition simply falls apart. If you can articulate no positive vision, you have no moral compass. Everyone who shares your hatred is your ally in an axis of hostility.”
That blind hostility has reached the outlandish extreme of targeting kosher food and anyone who buys or sells it. That should be an anathema to anyone who stands on the side of tolerance and free speech and against prejudice and racism.
But, as O’Neil wrote in the Telegraph, have anti-Israel protesters asked themselves why is that, with all of the world’s hot spots where far worse acts are being committed with far more casualties, it is Israel that receives their full attention.
And why is that some of the slurs that were traditionally hurled at Jews – that they ore child-killers, they control global politics, they cause international instability – are now being said about Israel? The answers they give themselves might make it hard for them to continue hiding behind the anti-Israel facade.