Blame it on Balfour

The main engine of the British boycott is a party that has many anti-Zionist Jews among its upper ranks.

jp.services1 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Britain, which only recently celebrated the 350th anniversary of its Jewish community, is "a lost cause" for Israel, Evelyn Gordon wrote in her June 6 Post column. This assessment follows in the wake of British academics and journalists having instructed their trade unions to adopt policies supporting a boycott of Israel. Groups of architects and doctors are trying to do the same in their professions. And, UNISON, Britain's biggest trade union, is next in line to decide whether to join the bandwagon. Similar campaigns exist in other countries, but nowhere is boycotting the Jewish state being pursued with the same vigor as in the UK. Many have been left scratching their head and asking: Why Britain? The answer begins with two words: Balfour Declaration. British post-colonial guilt is felt more keenly in relation to Israel/Palestine than any other former colony. Balfour was the "original sin," according to George Galloway, "which has been the cause of all the problems in the region," a wrong which must be righted. If you believe, as much of the British Left does, that Israel was artificially implanted in 1948 by a retreating empire to act as the West's watchdog, then the creation of Israel was just another conspiracy and Britain was the central conspirator. Britain is now back as an occupying power in the Middle East, and its presence in Iraq generates enormous anger and shame on the British Left. That it was a Labor government that took the country to war is the greatest betrayal. This puts British leftists in a difficult position: They can't boycott themselves, and to call for a boycott of America would be only slightly less ludicrous. So all that anger, guilt and frustration are neatly displaced onto Israel, imperialism's little brother. Israel also happens to be a Jewish state and Jews, however subconsciously, have been Europe's favored scapegoat for centuries. THERE ARE more prosaic reasons for "Boycott Britain." The main engine of the boycott campaign is the Socialist Workers Party, which has a disproportionate number of anti-Zionist Jews among its upper ranks, and it is the anti-Zionist Jews who are driving this issue. It would be wrong to assume, as some do, that they are naive dupes being used by their non-Jewish comrades to make anti-Israel campaigning kosher. This is not the case. Their anti-Zionism is their - admittedly unorthodox - way of expressing their own Jewish identity, by rebelling against the mainstream Jewish consensus. These are Trotskyite Jews continuing their age-old feud against the Jewish bourgeoisie; an internal Jewish broiges played out in the anachronistic setting of the conference floors of British trade unions. Anti-Zionist Jews are a small fringe of the Jewish community. For most Jews, a boycott of Israel raises the specter of wider, anti-Jewish boycotts. Calls not to buy Israeli goods can easily slip into a boycott of "Jewish" businesses, as was the case with the Arab boycott of the 1970s and 1980s. Boycotts of Jews were a ubiquitous Nazi tactic across occupied Europe, as a first step toward separation, deportation and genocide. This is not to accuse any of the current anti-Israel boycotters of being like, or wanting to emulate, the Nazis; but it is significant that Britain was never occupied during the war. FIRSTLY, IN the narrative of the British Left, there is no historic debt to Jews that would counterbalance the debt to the Palestinians. And secondly, Britain lacks continental Europe's collective memory of boycotts as a profoundly destructive, anti-Semitic measure. Instead, Britain has a different experience of boycotts, one which is wholly positive: the boycotts of South Africa that formed the core of anti-apartheid campaigning. This has been mythologized as a victory for the use of sanctions and boycotts, pioneered by left-wing groups that forced reluctant governments to take a stand. Many of the activists from that time are present in the anti-Zionist movement and openly use that experience as a model for the new mass movement they are trying to create. It is a mistake to assume that the success of anti-Israel campaigns in Britain is because of the sizable Muslim community. This is a campaign by the far Left, led by people who have been saying the same things about Israel since before Britain had a Muslim community of political consequence. The slogan that Israel is the new South Africa, and Zionism the new apartheid, betrays their need, on a personal and organizational level, for a new anti-apartheid movement. These are people who accuse America of creating an Islamist bogeyman because, after the fall of communism, it needed a new enemy. The same could just as easily be said of their own determination to frame Zionism as the new apartheid. As Baroness Tonge said at a recent anti-Israel rally in London, "a free Palestine means we are on the road to world peace." There is a deep utopian fantasy driving this anti-Zionism. TRYING TO portray Israel as the new South Africa also reveals the true motives of the boycott campaigners. Boycotting Israel is both an expression of, and a tool for, the rejection of Israel's basic legitimacy. It creates a framework for the dismantling of Zionism itself as an illegitimate, racist ideology, and the removal of the State of Israel from the map of the Middle East. This is about much more than simply the West Bank and Gaza. Anger at the occupation, frustration at the failure to end the conflict and the sense that Israel, as the more powerful protagonist, is responsible for finding a solution, have brought inchoate anti-Israel sentiment to the British mainstream. Fully formed anti-Zionism, on a mass scale, may not be far away. The writer is deputy director of communications for the Community Security Trust, which works to ensure the safety and security of the Jewish community in Britain.