Phyllis Chesler Interviews Carol Gould

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Boycotting Israel means Boycotting Jews and Arabs
Last uploaded : Tuesday 12th Jul 2011 at 03:52
Contributed by : Carol Gould


'In seeking wisdom the first step is silence; the second: listening; the third: remembering; the fourth: practising; the fifth: teaching others.' Ibn Gabirol

I hope my Purcell Room anti-Boycott speech, to which I gave great care, taught something to those who had the wisdom to listen. Carol Gould

Why I am against Cultural Boycotts

by Carol Gould
delivered to the South Bank Literature Festival
10 July 2011


Before I bite into the meat of this debate I feel it is vital to understand where I come from. My great-grandparents died in a walled enclave known as the Pale of Settlement in Russia, struggling on borscht and a potato a week to survive. All of my great-grandfathers were rabbis who served their respective communities with dignity, teaching most days on an empty stomach. Their children emigrated to the USA in the early 1900s. My grandparents, along with over a million other Jewish refugees driven out of Czarist Russia by pogroms, rape and murder, arrived in America penniless and speaking only Yiddish, thinking the USA was ‘the goldener medina’ -- a land paved with gold. For them it rapidly revealed itself to be paved with hardship atop a heap of virulent and often violent anti-Semitism.

What has this to do with the ethics of cultural boycotts? I will explain.

My mother, who had rickets and whose teeth turned black in childhood due to malnutrition, grew up to be a revered member of the teaching profession in Philadelphia. Her brother, despite having his face rearranged by Jew-hating thugs, went on to be a beloved dentist. His sisters, my aunts, all went on to fine careers despite being hounded by gangs every day on their way to school -- gangs who called them kikes and wished them dead. My father, whose impoverished immigrant mother embroidered, took in ironing and worked herself to a bone to get him through college, became the much-loved head of the marine design department of the US Corps of Engineers; his funeral was a near mob-scene of grieving colleagues form all over the USA. My family could have boycotted anything and everything from the lands that had caused their parents to emigrate, but they never held grudges and assumed that in time great leaders would bring a better life to the people of the lands from which their parents had fled.

My family could have boycotted anything and everything from the lands that had caused my grandparents to emigrate, but they never held grudges and assumed that in time great leaders would emerge to bring a better life to the people of the lands from which their parents had fled in terror. In the 1930s refugees from Nazi Germany and from the large list of Nazi-occupied lands arrived in the USA. Many of these included Jews from the Middle East and North Africa, where the Grand Mufti al Husseini had rallied his troops to join the SS and who had a thriving office in Berlin. These new immigrants to the USA went on to careers and quiet lives, holding no grudges against their many native lands. Until very recently it was an unwritten and sad fact that Jews could not join country clubs in many parts of America. So they started their own clubs. In a way my family, like millions of other ethnic groups, lived in their own neighbourhoods for their own peace of mind. Not quite apartheid, but there were boundaries.

Henry Ford, Walt Disney and Thomas Edison were not fans of my tribe and there is a legend that Edison, in his own loathsome manifestation of personal artistic boycott, petitioned the New York legislature to bar immigrants from operating film studios in New York and that is why Hollywood was born. The immigrant moguls Louis B Mayer, the Warner Brothers, Goldwyn, Lasky -- the list goes on and on -- set up in California and the rest is history. These men -- and indeed refugees of other faiths in the USA - could have spent their lives blowing up cafes and subway trains and shooting rockets at churches but they got on with their lives and resigned themselves to the fact that they would never see their abandoned homes in the Old Country ever again.

From the seed of these immigrants came Leonard Bernstein, Barbra Streisand, Arthur Miller, Stephen Spielberg and hundreds of other performers, producers, composers and writers, not to mention Drs Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin, whose polio cure changed the world. Billions of people across the world owe their lives to these men.

890,000 Jews who were tortured, lynched, burned and expelled from Arab lands after 1948 and who settled in other countries around the world having lost everything except the shirts on their backs went on to illustrious careers in the arts and other professions. Despite their anguish at the loss of their homes and businesses they and their progeny have made new, productive and non-violent lives for themselves in adopted lands. I appreciate that the thrust of the modern-day boycott movement focuses on Israel and the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza. The boycott revolves around the concept that occupation is strangling these conurbations but it must be noted that since Ariel Sharon forcibly evacuated every last Jew from Gaza it has become a military base from which rocket attacks occur every day into greater Israel.

Gaza is administered by Hamas, whose charter will never recognise Israel and whose aspiration is the elimination of its neighbour. Many choose to call Israel an apartheid state because it has constructed a walled barrier and its military attacks Palestinians, but Number One -- the origin of these measures was the unending violence perpetrated by terrorists inside mainland Israel for decades. Rockets fly into Israel North and South; bombs hit cafes and university cafeterias and hotel restaurants in which Holocaust survivors celebrate Passover. Israel must protect its citizens. This is not apartheid. Number Two -- if Israel is an apartheid state how is it that Omar Barghouti has studied at Tel Aviv University? Did blacks routinely study at Wits? If Israel is an apartheid state how is it that Sheikh Raed Salah, last week being earmarked for removal from the UK by Theresa May as a terrorist, actually resides in Israel? And Number Three, if Israel is an apartheid state how is it that over a million Arabs, Muslim and Christian, not to mention Bahais and other faiths, live inside Israel? I might add that this ‘ racist Nazi state,’ as some describe Israel, has an annual Gay Pride March and Love Parade and puts its own President, Moshe Katsav in prison for rape? If we were to boycott anything and everything Israeli the world would slow down considerably as so much technology and medical wizardry comes out of the Weizmann Institute and other remarkable centres of advancement that emerged from the ashes of the Holocaust.

So let’s put the aforementioned narrative into a perspective that incorporates today’s debate. I believe it is unethical and immoral to boycott the work of our fellow performers and creative artists no matter how much bitterness we harbour against their countries‘ policies.

Like my esteemed colleague Margaret Atwood, who recently collected the Dan David Prize at Tel Aviv University, ‘I don’t do cultural boycotts.’ Notwithstanding the effect cultural boycotts had on the South African struggle, I feel the true thrust of the liberation of blacks and the end of apartheid came from the tireless and eloquent work of Helen Suzman, Ike Horvich, Joe Slovo, Arthur Goldreich, Ruth First and the many other campaigners whose voices were heard around the world. When Jews are called racists because they support Israel’s survival I cringe because the names I have
just mentioned were all of my faith as were so many civil rights campaigners, including my brave parents in the USA.

After 9/11, Americans in London, and most particularly those like me who love to shop in Edgware Road, could have boycotted goods from Muslim countries. Indeed, the day after the attack I was on a bus to Marble Arch and a woman tore into a passenger in a burkha. In a flash every shopper on their way to Church St market joined the affray and the woman fled the bus in fear. I stopped by the Green Valley Palestinian supermarket and bought my usual supply of wonderful produce. Why should I boycott anything when it would mean suppliers, farmers and shopowners losing their livelihood? Inasmuch as Libya and other Arab and Muslim nations are Judenrein, -- Jewless -- and also persecute Christians, I could boycott their products and businesses in London but I do not. It is reported that in Syria a little 13 year old boy has been castrated and dismembered; it is a fact right now that 91% of Egyptians want to sever ties with Israel. Should I boycott Syrian or Egyptian artists and writers? No - I need to keep a dialogue going. When synagogues worldwide select charities each year for their annual High Holy Day appeals do they boycott Christian and Muslim causes? No. The Liberal Jewish Synagogue worked with fervour to help Bosnian Muslims. ORT and World Jewish Relief have worked tirelessly to aid the suffering people of countries around the world without regard to their religion, race or policies.

I have lived here for 35 years and know that many Britons think Americans are dumb. Despite my Phi Beta Kappa key and postgraduate credits maybe I am dumb but I simply cannot get my head around the recent boycott movement against the Israel Philharmonic’s tour of the USA. If the accusation that the Israel Phil is responsible for atrocities and genocide is mooted because most members have served in the IDF, then we would have to boycott every orchestra on earth as many men and women have served in their armed forces and may have been involved in war and its terrible consequences. I am adamant that boycotting and banning the purchase of books from Israel, as was recently reported to be a goal of West Dunbartonshire Council, is chilling to the bone. As MPs pointed out in an early day motion this smacks of the book-banning and eventual book-burnings in Nazi Germany. The Jews have survived for 5,771 years because we love to see humour in all things and there is a joke going around right now that orthodox men may have to forego Scottish schnapps during the weekly Kiddush ceremony.

Aung Sang Suu Kyi, who is delivering the Reith Lecture this year, says ‘Freedom to share your thoughts is a right that should never be violated.’

I am against the motion of cultural boycotts because the vast majority of artists be they Chinese, Sudanese, Venezuelan, Cuban, Israeli, Iranian, Syrian or from other countries perceived by some as rogue states, are the voices of reason and protest and by boycotting their work we shut down dialogue.

I conclude by saying that if boycotting means the violent attacks on London branches of Starbucks in 2009 because its owner Howard
Schultz is perceived as a Zionist and his logo as a symbol of Queen Esther and the worldwide Zionist conspiracy, then I want no part of any movement that disrupts, penalizes and at its worst damages the work of people striving to earn a living and provide jobs for others.

Boycott is a word loved by Joseph Goebbels. Anything he loved is something I detest.

Thank you for listening.

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