Phyllis Chesler Interviews Carol Gould

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Not the Nicest Union Meeting
Last uploaded : Monday 2nd Jul 2007 at 23:32
Contributed by : Carol Gould


There is now a disturbing spectrum of trade union boycotts of Israel proliferating across Great Britain. Never have I known the small ( 260,000) Jewish community of the UK to be in such crisis and so besieged. Impassioned journalism by Howard Jacobson, the Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks and Melanie Phillips, embellished with the expressions ’Jew-hatred’ and ‘witch hunt’ reflect the rising anguish in both secular and religious Anglo-Jewry.

I am in the unique position of being amongst a tiny handful of British-based Jewish-American members of one of the institutions demanding a boycott, the National Union of Journalists. It is perhaps because I can bear witness to the abject hatred recently displayed towards me at an NUJ meeting that I am able to explain and chronicle the British boycott saga for an American readership.

This is not a sudden phenomenon. Professor Steven Rose, with his wife Hilary, in response to Israeli military actions in the occupied Palestinian territories, advocated the initiation of a boycott of Israeli academics in a widely disseminated letter to the ‘Guardian’ newspaper on April 6, 2002. This caused a national stir and soon the boycott gained momentum and widespread support in British academia and beyond. Throughout the past three years since the Rose letter they have become ‘regulars’ in the British media.

British newspapers have from time to time published articles calling for the demise of Israel. ‘Israel Simply Has No Right to Exist’ by Faisal Bodi, 3 January, 2001 in The Guardian, and editorials by numerous British Muslims have been joined in the Zionist-bashing chorus by the historian AN Wilson and art critic Brian Sewell, who in the London ’Evening Standard’ have griped about Israel and about Jewish aspirations. ‘It is time for the world community to consider dismantling Israel‘ is not an uncommon phrase in the current social discourse. At the ‘Enough!’ rally on Saturday 9 June in London, members of Parliament, actors and religious leaders called for a siege on Israel through boycotts.

As the anniversary of the Six Day War passes the British University and College Union has voted at its May 2007 conference in Bournemouth to formulate a nationwide boycott policy of their Israeli counterparts. Their campaign would ‘consider the moral implications of existing and proposed links with Israeli academic institutions.’ It would also host tours of British universities by Palestinian academics and trade unionists. At the conference ‘The Jewish Chronicle’ reporter heard delegates referring to Israel as an apartheid state guilty of ethnic cleansing and barbarism. Having seen first-hand the profound hatred of Israel amongst my union colleagues last month I can well imagine the fury of the college lecturers ranting about Israeli barbarism.

In recent weeks a group of some 150 British doctors and consultants has signed a letter published on various websites condemning Israeli policies towards the Palestinians and demanding an end to cooperation with Israeli Medical associations. In addition the Royal Institute of British Architects is discussing rekindling their 2006 attempt to boycott relationships with Israel. The architects, including Royal Institute of British Architects president Jack Pringle and president-elect Sunand Prasad, have signed a petition organised by the group Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine.

"APJP asserts that the actions of our fellow professionals working with these enterprises are clearly unethical, immoral and contravene universally recognised professional codes of conduct," a spokesman told The Guardian newspaper on 26 May 2007. The idea that Jewish architects in Israel are somehow complicit in immoral activity is reminiscent of the German Nazi cartoons linking Jews to every grievance known to mankind.

However, the boycott of greatest impact has just been tabled at the conference of the largest trade union of all in Britain, UNISON. Its proposed divestment will affect Israeli pension funds. This is because long ago the Left in Britain admired Israel for its cooperative farming and embrace of Socialist ideals. The same Britons who are now marching to condemn the Jewish State would have spent a year or so on kibbutz as teenagers. In the early days of Israel’s existence British trade unionists had no problem with investment in Israel. In the intervening decades Israel has become a military power and is supported by the ‘Great Satan’ America, which the fulminating Left in Britain sees today as a neocon-Zionist-driven, murderous torture factory.

UNISON also makes these ominous demands of its membership:
‘..investigating how UNISON members may be involved in trade with Israel or with key companies active in this trade; ’ ’ investigating whether pension funds may have investments in Israel or in key companies trading with Israel, and seeking disinvestment from any such pension links..’

It is vital for Americans to appreciate that the BBC, major network broadcaster Channel Four and newspapers in Britain, who give daily vent to innumerable angry Palestinians and British Israel-bashers, have added to a climate of universal condemnation. Sudan, Zimbabwe, Venezuela and Myanmar escape the attention of the British media and trade unions. I doubt your average Briton knows who Hugo Chavez is, but even a beauty therapist will lecture me about the brutality of the Jewish State and the ’genocide of the Palestinians.’

In Britain, Israel is now the national target of obsessive criticism. A recent two-hour documentary about Jerusalem by former MP and Bosnia negotiator Paddy Ashdown was a relentless, claustrophobic indictment of Israel with factual errors in the script. His show was followed by two more documentaries about the evil Israelis; not once did we see Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic, the Habima and Cameri Theatres, the Technion, Weizmann Institute or the selfless work of he Hadassah and other Israeli hospitals.

It is therefore little wonder so many sectors of British society are filled with boycott mania.

This loathing of Israel and America was brought home to me two weeks ago at a meeting of the London chapter, or ‘chapel,’ of the Journalists’ Union, which had called a special May gathering to discuss the Israel Boycott motion that had been passed on April 15 at their national delegates’ meeting.

I went along armed with a book by Hillel Halkin, ‘Letters to an American Friend: a Zionist’s Polemic,’ written after the Yom Kippur War and chronicling the agony of daily life as a Reservist in Israel -- a man who is also husband, father, son and brother. I never had a chance to read from the book because the meeting degenerated into a series of furious diatribes by NUJ members.

I heard about the brutality of Israel and every other imaginable crime against humanity. Each member who spoke made sure to tell the group that they had ‘been boycotting absolutely anything and everything from Israel for years and years,’ and the editor of the union’s ‘Journalist’ magazine spat out the comment I hear almost every day in London about ‘rich American Jews’ funding and driving Israel’s disgraceful policies. I was refused the floor when I wanted to correct the calumnies being hurled at Israel. Later I escaped to a nearby pub but the angry members piled in to continue their assault on me. One said Jews needed to ‘get the Holocaust out of their system and get that chip off your shoulder because slavery was a much worse genocide’ whilst yet another said, ‘Israel is plain thievery - you nicked their land in ‘48 and Zionism is out-and-out racism.’ All of the members were incensed that I had dared come to the meeting to defend Israel’s right to exist and their barely-contained anger was something I had not witnessed in any situation in living memory.

In ‘The Daily Express’ newspaper of May 31, 2007 one of the tiny handful of non-Jewish voices in support of Israel, Leo McKinstry, noted that a National Union of Journalists member, Pamela Hardyment, had written a letter to a communal organisation stating that Israel is ‘a wonderful Nazi-like killing machine backed by the world’s richest Jews’ whilst referring to the ‘so-called Holocaust’ and adding, ‘Shame on all Jews, may your lives be cursed.’

Notwithstanding the efforts of non-Jewish journalists Richard Littlejohn, Charles Moore, and the abovementioned Leo McKinstry to stop these boycotts, in the coming weeks it is highly likely Britain will be at the forefront of a massive labour movement campaign against everything Israeli. Last week in ‘The Jerusalem Post’ a comment page reminded the world that England expelled its Jews in 1290 after the brutal York, Lincoln and Norwich Blood Libels and Massacres, not to re-admit them until the time of Cromwell. The generosity of Britons to Jewish Kindertransporte children and to refugees from Nazi Germany was considerable, but my experience over thirty-one years has, sadly, been one of perpetual astonishment at the blatant anti-Semitism and Israel-hatred I have witnessed on the ‘polite ( sic!) dinner party circuit.’ At a London tea party I attended after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, a frail ninety-year-old lashed out at me when I said I had been to Rabin’s grave at Mount Herzl, snarling, ‘That Rabin and all of those Jewish terrorists should have been executed in 1947.’

As so many Israel boycotters shrilly proclaim, criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitism. They use as their protective shield the fact that many prominent Anglo Jews, including the playwright Harold Pinter, deplore every breath Israel breathes. The peuce-faced British journalists who lambasted me could barely contain their hatred of everything I am. If that is not anti-Semitism, I do not know what is.
A shorter version of this article appears in the forthcoming July issue of World Jewish Digest.

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