March 28, 2009

Some of their best customers are Jews

I've just got home from this café, Café Crema. I went there because there was an article in the Jewish Chronicle saying that the café's boycott of Israeli goods had been a "PR disaster".

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Here's the JC:
A café owner has apologised for displaying a sign declaring “Jews are welcome”, saying it was a bid to allay fears that his boycott of Israeli goods could be interpreted as being antisemitic.

Chris Boddington said he was open about his boycott and support for the Palestine Solidarity Campaign at Café Crema in New Cross, south-east London. But he realised a boycott of Israeli produce could be equated with antisemitism.

The nearby Goldsmiths College owns the café and is Mr Boddington’s landlord. Many customers are Goldsmiths’ students or academics. In an attempt to reassure Jewish customers, Mr Boddington wrote on a blackboard: “We do not use any Israeli products. We are not antisemitic but anti-fascist. Jews are as welcome here as anyone else.”

He admitted it had backfired and constituted a substantial “PR cock-up”.

He said: “I wanted to make it clear we are not antisemitic. But people have taken it as me singling out Jews. I have said sorry. We do not want to exclude anyone. I am also well aware there are plenty of decent Israelis, but I do not believe they will dismantle the settlements and end the occupation.”

David Hirsh, a Goldsmiths’ lecturer and editor of the Engage website, which campaigns against academic boycotts of Israel, said: “Antisemitic ‘cock-ups’ follow the boycott campaign wherever it goes. Not because the boycotters are Jew-haters. But because the campaign to single out Israelis for exclusion is antisemitic.”

I expected to see the place festooned with Palestinobilia but there was nothing on display that could be seen from outside until you got right up close and there was a little postcard in the window advertising an "Evening for Gaza" from last month. Now I was a little disappointed so I popped inside, looked around and I still couldn't see anything suggesting anything about Palestine or Jews unless you count the picture of Bob Dylan on the wall. (Bob Dylan was at one point quite a fanatical zionist, I don't know where he stands on Palestine now.) So I asked the man behind the counter about the café's support for the boycott and about the JC article which it turned out he had read.

I asked him about his "sign" and it wasn't a sign at all. It was a little note in chalk at the bottom of a board that said what was for sale in the café. You could spend your whole time in there and never know where they stood on Palestine. But it was when he was told that some people say that the Israel boycott is antisemitic he put up a notice to say that Jews are as welcome as anyone else and then it was pointed out to him that that really could offend people, which he accepted and changed the note to what it had been before, pretty much. A mistake? Maybe. A PR disaster? Hardly.

I know but he didn't know, that several people have been there already simply because of the reports that started on the blog of a zionist called Bob from Brockley (on March 11, 2009), that went from there to Engage - that is the site which the Jewish Chronicle says "campaigns against academic boycotts of Israel" though it claims to campaign against antisemitism - and from there to the JC. That's a good two weeks now.

Ok, so having his attention drawn to the thing about Jews being as welcome as anyone else, Chris removed the note and said that he was sorry about it. End of story? Well no. See that JC report again. Dr Hirsh says that the boycott itself is antisemitic so it didn't matter what he said about Jews in general. Boycotting a state based on colonial settlement, ethnic cleansing, racist laws and relentless aggression towards the natives and neighbours of Palestine is antisemitic, according to Dr Hirsh.

Now I know I shouldn't waste as much time as I do on these people but the contribution of John Strawson to this is bizarre.
The arrogance of Chris’s position is astounding. Britain has been a colonial power for 3 centuries during which time it played a major role in the slave trade, ethnically cleansed most of North America and Australia, created concentration camps in South Africa and fought vicious wars to keep its colonies - do not forget some 100,000 Kenyans died in the 1950’s. Incidentially it also prevented many cictims of the Nazis from reaching Palestine - and did nothing to stop the Holocaust during World War II. The same Britain has recently been helping occupy Iraq since 2003. Chris is not frustrated by his own state and its bloody colonial record - he is only frustrated by a Jewish State. I think he has a problem.
When I met the guy (Chris Bodington, not John Strawson) this afternoon he struck me as being a pleasant unassuming chap. What does John Strawson know of what he makes of the UK's colonial past and present? But whatever he does make of it, what's it got to do with Israel? And what's it got to do with arrogance? And of course Strawson is a zionist. What's his principled objection to ethnic cleansing? Only Jews are allowed to do it? I don't think even he would be so brazen as to say that.

It's true that what Israel is doing to the Palestinians bears comparison to what the British and other Europeans did to the natives in America and Australasia but that's the point. We want to stop that before it's too late not use those earlier episodes to justify or cover for what Israel is doing now. And as for the occupation of Iraq, the UK's existence isn't predicated on it. Israel's existence is predicated on the dispossession of the Palestinians.

And what's all this about the holocaust? What did the zionists do while the holocaust was in progress? What did they do when Hitler came to power? What did they do in Hungary? How many Jews got trapped in Germany because of the Ha'avara agreement? and what might have become of Hitler's regime if the boycott hadn't been broken by zionists? Is Chris supposed to buy Israeli goods because of the holocaust? And what's with the "incidentally" with regard to the holocaust? It's their main card, hardly incidental either historically or to zionist "arguments".

I'm sure John Strawson understands these things but to leap in with such an obvious ad hominem attack on someone he's never met is downright childish. And this is a lecturer in international law and a former lecturer at Bir Zeit University. He is also someone who refused to answer if he was the same John Strawson that ran on the Meretz list for election to the World Zionist Congress a few years ago. A man of many parts.

My own view here is that Chris has been a little naive. He was wrong to believe that the boycott Israeli goods campaign is genuinely perceived as antisemitic. A simple statement, Boycott Israeli Goods or in this case we boycott Israeli goods, is fine. In the context of the board where the note appeared, the "Jews are as welcome as anyone else" looked like an answer to a frequently, if mischievously, asked question. Now there are genuine critics of Israel and even anti-zionists who don't support the boycott but they know that the antisemitism ploy is just that, a ploy. They also seem to realise that it could backfire as, as Chris points out, a boycott of a state isn't a boycott of its people or the people the state claims are its people. The anti-boycotters that want to make a genuine case against a boycott whilst condemning Israel are hindered by the clowns that play the antisemitism card. But the only people who are offended by the boycott are people that don't like serious criticism of Israel or of zionism anyway.

Oh, I've only just remembered, when she saw the article in the JC, Deborah Fink wrote to the Just Peace UK list to say this:
Here's a café we must all go to! I wonder if they stock Zaytoun products?
Good news! They do.

Anyway, any more PR disasters like that and Chris and his family will be able to expand the café into adjacent shops.

Just one more thing - they do make a nice espresso and carrot cake - that's the main thing.


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