Only Sigmund Freud could probably account for why strains of “Suicide is Painless” (the M*A*S*H theme song – in both the 1970 movie and subsequent TV series) pulsated inside my cranium each time the anti-boycott bill was being rehashed on our airwaves.
Whatever the subconscious trigger, the lyrics (written by director Robert Altman’s 14-year-old son) evolved as they reverberated in my mind’s ear. The refrain “suicide is painless” soon morphed into “boycott is beautiful.”
Resorting to amateur psychoanalysis, I could vaguely work out what led me to regard boycotts as beautiful. I must have subliminally succumbed to all that high-minded leftist palaver about boycotts constituting a legitimate form of free speech. As such, boycotts become a positive expression of human rights.
My own appreciation was thoroughly grounded in historic precedent. The benefits of boycotts are undeniable.
For example, in the 1870s, the Anti-Coolies Association and the Supreme
Order of the Caucasians initiated boycotts of Chinese businesses and
laborers across America’s West.
Many immigrants sailed back to China. Others fled to San Francisco, home to the largest US Chinatown.
The northern California burgh of Truckee offers instructive insight into
how a successful boycott functions. Members of the White Labor Club and
the Caucasian League exercised their constitutional right to free
speech when they declared “The Chinese Must Go.”
The Truckee Chinese Boycotting Committee adopted the following
resolution: “We recognize the Chinese as an unmitigated curse to the
Pacific Coast and a direct threat to the bread and butter of the working
It’s sort of reminiscent of the terminology adopted by Israel’s renowned
champions of democracy against “settlers.” Do our peaceniks attempt to
end all Jewish presence outside the 1949 armistice demarcations, along
the lines of what took place in Truckee? Most likely.
The upshot of the democratically declared Truckee boycott was that all
its Chinese laborers were fired and Chinese businesses withered when
customers stayed away. Every non-Chinese emporium in town refused to
sell anything to the Chinese. It was their democratic right, wasn’t it?
All this forward thinking culminated in America’s 1882 Chinese Exclusion
Act, which barred Chinese entry into the US for 10 years, forced
already-resident Chinese to reapply for visas, and permanently denied
American citizenship to all Chinese. This boycott-born bounty was
finally repealed in 1943.
Meanwhile, back in Europe, much the same sentiment raged against veteran Jewish communities.
The 1882 International Anti-Jewish Congress in Dresden strove to boycott
Jewish merchants and professionals. Freedom of speech, however, didn’t
fare as well in Austria, whose authorities banned the slogan “Don’t buy
from Jews.” But freedom’s clever defenders soon modified their motto to
“Buy from Christians only.”
Poland managed virulent Judeophobia even before it gained independence
in 1918. Its endemic anti-Jewish boycotts were always hatched in
democracy’s name, many spearheaded by the National Democratic Party –
notorious as Endek, its Polish acronym.
In newly independent Poland, the Endeks zealously blamed Jews – a full
eighth of the population – for the country’s economic woes. This spilled
over to America, where in 1919 Polish-Americans and assorted Slavic
sympathizers declared a boycott of all Jewish enterprises. They
petitioned the US government, charging Jews with “importing racial
conflicts” to the States and “condemning the insincere tactics of the
These boycotters, upholding their rights as Americans, emulated the old
country’s innate penchants. Strangulating elementary Jewish subsistence
was Poland’s time-tried recipe for ridding itself of poverty and
Polish boycotts received official sanction in 1920, when Endek leader
Wladyslaw Grabski took over as prime minister. He made Jewish life
miserable via a variety of nasty measures.
Unobtrusive among them was the boycott-enhancing edict obliging all store
owners to display oversized signs bearing their surnames over shop
windows. This expedited the identification of Jewish establishments,
which could then be singled out to facilitate a legitimate democratic
It’s intrinsically akin to the demand that all goods manufactured over
the Green Line be clearly labeled. Blacklists of brands to boycott serve
a similar purpose against latter-day “Jewish imperialists.”
For reasons of political correctness, we won’t enter the minefield of
Nazi boycotts. Analogies with Hitler’s Germany are the exclusive
preserve of the enlightened Left. Suffice it to say that the Third
Reich’s prototype inspired escalation elsewhere – including in Poland,
where picketers asserted their rights to free speech by harassing Jewish
vendors and their non-Jewish customers.
In 1937, Poland’s last prewar premier, Felicjan Slawoj-Skladkowski,
quipped in the noblest democratic tradition (so unlike our own Binyamin
Netanyahu): “Economic boycott? Please!” Poland’s anti-Jewish boycott was
eventually dubbed “the cold pogrom.” Shortly before the Holocaust,
multitudes of anyhow mostly poor Jews, with nowhere to go, were bereft
of their livelihood.
Anti-Semites habitually recommend “hitting Jews in their pocketbook.”
Which is probably why the Arab League has adopted this ploy against the
Jewish state, and why the Palestinian Authority last year instituted its
PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad had personally tossed “settlement
products” into huge bonfires, to the approving whoops of onlookers.
With such venerable role models, how could our own leftist sophisticates
resist doing the same? Israeli professors, authors, filmmakers and
artistes relish whipping up anti-Israel passions abroad. It’s not purely
ideological. Such activity is lucrative. It assures academics a hearty
welcome in the most prestigious campuses – if they only vilify Israel
vehemently enough. It helps sell books and movies, stage shows and mount
Advantageous for their advocates, boycotts are indeed beautiful.
If our Left insists on the legitimacy of boycotts, we should all
cheerfully concur. Were it not for the detailed blacklists peaceniks
compile, we might not figure out which pickles and pretzels were
produced on Jerusalem’s out-of-bounds outskirts and which fine wines are
verboten. But now we can use the boycott database to buy precisely what
they seek to ban.
Moreover, the beauty of boycotts doesn’t end here. We can instigate counter-boycotts.
Once the Left has given us the green light to boycott targeted segments
of Israeli society, we might, theoretically, boycott Israeli-Arab
businesses and workers. That would obviously be the quickest way to
They will suddenly lose their attractiveness and democratic sheen.
What’s acceptable against some Jews would be decried as rank racism if
employed against non-Jews. This is the immutable postulate of asymmetry.
That said, nothing prevents us from inconsiderately turning any adversity into a double-edged sword. Boycotts cut both ways. Herein reside the potential benefits of
miscellaneous prohibitions, the fonts of their latent beauty – or,
paraphrasing the words of young Mike Altman’s schoolboy angst: ...
Boycott is beautifulit brings on many changesand I can take or leave
it if I so feel.
...and you can do the same thing if you will.