Boycott Kosher Goods

6 Mar 2012 by CST

Anti-Israel boycotts exemplify the highly charged debate over what is and isn't antisemitic in the context of anti-Israel campaigning. More accurately, they show the utter inadequacy of trying to pin "antisemitic" or "not antisemitic" labels upon anti-Israel actions. Targeting the kosher section of a supermarket is the sharp end of this.

Take the words of one boycotter in Birmingham:

It went really well...[we] filled a massive trolley, tipped tons of stuff in, dates, peppers, loads of kosher stuff, wine, stickered everything...and left all our stuff with a big sign saying 'boycott Israeli goods'...yeah, it was really good.

The boycotters don't boycott Israel in order to boycott Jews. They see themselves continuing the symbolic, successful, non-violent tradition of the anti-South African boycott. For many Jews, however, boycotts instinctively evoke an antisemitic past, rather than a feel-good moment in anti-apartheid history. There is also the inescapable sense that someone who is being singled out for boycott is also being implicitly singled out for hatred.

This video here was recently shot in Birmingham and includes the above quote about boycotting "kosher stuff" (at 14.06). The boycotters in the video look like nice, decent young people, trying to do their bit as they excitedly film and photograph each other in various Birmingham branches of Tesco. You'll be glad to hear them saying how non-antisemitic they are. (They seem entirely genuine in that.)  

Nevertheless, if you watch the entire 15minutes of the video there is a sense that perhaps the person who made it is a tad embarrassed about the kosher aspect (or at least less proud of it than everything else in the film). All the activity against the fruit and veg section is cheerily filmed, captioned and commentated upon, but you have to look very closely to spot the "loads of kosher stuff", boasted of - without a pause for contemplation - by the well spoken young revolutionary in his piece to camera, beginning at 14min 6sec into the clip.

The "loads of kosher stuff" appears only in stills. You can see the Sabbath candles at the top of the trolley in the photo at 12min 22sec; a photo including the "Kosher and Happy Passover" section sign is at 12min 25sec; and at 13min 51sec the boycotters look a bit sheepish as they stand in front of the stickered olives, chocolate chip biscuits and Telma consomme mix. (Mercifully, the pickles appear to be unscathed.)

Then, at 14min 0sec you can see the boycotters taking on a veritable nest of Israeli kosher iniquity that includes the Kedem grape juice enjoyed by Jewish children (and lucky adults) on Friday nights and festivals.

Target the kosher section of a supermarket and you get somewhere near the heart of the multifaceted relationship between Jews and Israel; and between anti-Israel activism and antisemitism. Give the matter any decent consideration and you immediately see how utterly inadequate the "is it antisemitic / isn't it antisemitic" debate is to discussing the practical and emotional anti-Jewish impacts of anti-Israel measures. For example:

Who uses the kosher section of the supermarket and how will they feel when confronted with 'boycott' stickers and disruptions to the shelves?

Who is it that's going to lose out if kosher sections have their Israeli produce removed? Or, if supermarkets decide the kosher sections simply aren't worth the hassle?

And, how much worse are these impacts in places like Birmingham where you have small Jewish communities? These are communities where a viable and vibrant Jewish life for observant Jews is increasingly in question; and where those who wish to keep kosher are increasingly reliant upon supermarkets to stock such Jewish-related produce, a large percentage of which is of Israeli origin. 

If these boycotts succeed, then some smaller Jewish communities that want to have the Sabbath candles and the grape juice etc will just have to move elsewhere. (Either that, or organise deliveries from London and Manchester.) 

For now, however, the intimidation and isolation of Jewish customers is the only material outcome that can be assured to arise from the targeting of kosher sections of supermarkets for anti-Israel activity. The boycott movement (spurred on by a Jewish section that is relatively unattached to kashrut) obviously regards this anti-Jewish impact as a price worth paying in order to make its case...but they should understand why the majority of Jews will be left somewhat sickened by their behaviour.    

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