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ECAJ Urges Restraint from all Sides in BDS Rhetoric

September 14, 2011 – 7:40 pm25 Comments

Boycotting Max Brenner may not only be offensive to the Jewish community, it may also be offensive to the bald community. Image: passionatefoodie.blogspot.com

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) today issued the following statement concerning the debate about the campaign for Boycotts Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel and the targeting of the Max Brenner chain in Australia.  We feel this would be of particular interest to our readers:

Criticism of the BDS Campaign

There has been widespread criticism of the recent BDS protests against Max Brenner outlets in Sydney and Melbourne. The criticism has come not only from Labor and Coalition members of parliament, Federal and State, but also from some of their Greens colleagues. The ECAJ thanks all of them for their efforts in opposing and speaking out against the Australian arm of the global BDS campaign against Israel.

The Max Brenner chain is a legitimate, privately owned business that operates in accordance with Australian law. It provides employment to approximately 750 Australian workers and pays taxes that contribute to the public revenue. Its alleged ‘crime’ is to be connected in some way to a company that supplies chocolate and other food products to the Israeli army.

Recently, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) was asked by the Victorian government, with the near unanimous support of the Australian Senate (excluding the Greens), whether the BDS campaign against Max Brenner outlets constitutes a secondary boycott in contravention of section 45D of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010. The ACCC concluded that thus far there has been no contravention because the BDS campaign is unlikely to have had the effect of causing substantial loss or damage to the business of Max Brenner, as would be required to constitute a breach of section 45D.

Whilst in some respects that conclusion is disappointing, it highlights how ineffectual and unsuccessful the BDS campaign has been in persuading the Australian public not to patronise Max Brenner shops. Indeed, the BDS campaign has, if anything, succeeded in alienating broader public opinion in Australia and engendering sympathy and support for the target businesses.

Racist rhetoric employed in the BDS campaign

The ECAJ is, however, concerned about some of the rhetoric that has been deployed by both sides of the public debate concerning BDS. On occasions, some of those supporting BDS have lapsed into both overt and implicit antisemitism, and some of those opposing BDS have inappropriately likened Greens leaders to “Nazis”. Neither infraction excuses the other. We note that no members of parliament, Federal or State, on either side of the debate, have engaged in these extreme forms of rhetoric.

All expressions of antisemitism are repugnant not only to the Jewish community but also to the vast majority of Australians. An ancient and pernicious form of antisemitism is known as the “blood libel”, a vicious and revolting smear to the effect that Jews as a group habitually shed and consume human blood. (In point of fact, this is the exact opposite of Jewish teaching, which holds human life to be sacrosanct, a belief that has been inherited by both Christianity and Islam). In the BDS campaign against Max Brenner, the ancient blood libel is revived in the protesters’ chants:

There’s blood in your hot chocolate.

You support genocide.

Max, Max murderer.

It is of course ludicrous to describe someone who merely sells chocolate products as a “murderer”. Yet in our view, it is no accident that the BDS protesters choose to make their points in these specific ways, which tap into an historical reservoir of anti-Jewish tropes. They could make their points in other ways. True moral leadership requires our political representatives to repudiate this sort of deeply racist rhetoric, regardless of where they stand on the BDS issue.

One aspect of the BDS campaign that is particularly troubling is that the boycotts are aimed at businesses with Jewish owners. Thus, Max Brenner is targeted, but Intel or Microsoft or any other similar company, which operates significantly in Israel and supplies the Israeli Defence Force, is not targeted. It is entirely legitimate to draw attention to this disparity and to question the motives of BDS leaders.
There is further antisemitism in the implied denial of the Jewish people’s right of national self-determination. Another frequent anti-Israel chant is:

From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.

This implies that all of the land situated between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea is “Palestine”. Of course, part of that land consists of Israel. What is thereby advocated is the end of Israel as a sovereign State and its replacement by “Palestine”.

Distinguishing between political comment and inappropriate rhetoric

The ECAJ does not suggest that all criticisms of Israel are antisemitic.  Israel is a vibrant pluralist democracy and its citizens (Jews, Bedouin, Palestinians, and Druze) are often its most incisive critics.  But it is also false to suggest that no criticisms of Israel are antisemitic.   There is clearly an overlap, as the foregoing examples illustrate.
The existence of an overlap was also acknowledged in the Working Definition of Antisemitism developed by the European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC), which monitors racism and xenophobia in the 31 countries and candidate countries of the European Union, in collaboration with key NGOs and representatives of the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).

The EUMC, now called the European Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), adopted the definition in 2005 and distributed it to all its national monitors. In September 2006, the definition was adopted by the United Kingdom All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism.  It is also employed by units of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), representing about states. The definition has been translated into 33 languages including Arabic and Turkish. In February 2009, it was adopted in the London Declaration on Combating Antisemitism.  The working definition includes the following:

Examples of the ways in which antisemitism manifests itself with regard to the state of Israel taking into account the overall context could include:

  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.
  • Applying double standards by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
  • Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

Inappropriate Holocaust Rhetoric

The way to combat these more contemporary and subtle forms of antisemitism is not, in our view, to fight fire with fire. Whilst hyperbole is to be expected in any free-flowing political discussion in Australia’s robust democracy, special care is needed to avoid comparing any Australian political leaders or members of parliament to “Nazis” or comparing any political party in Australia to the former Nazi regime in Germany. There is, thankfully, nothing in Australia’s history and experience that is even remotely comparable to the unique evil and horror of the Hitler period in Germany and Europe.

Yet the use of inappropriate analogies with Nazism has crept into political discourse in Australia with increasing frequency. This has the effect of trivialising Nazi totalitarianism, particularly in the thinking of younger people who have no personal point of entry into understanding the realities of life under the Nazi jackboot.
For this reason our organisation some years ago adopted an express policy against inappropriate Holocaust rhetoric (see ECAJ Platform). The ECAJ: recognised that the Holocaust, the Nazi program of genocide, was a unique historical event; noted that the Holocaust is generally recognised as the benchmark of the most extreme case of human evil; and deplored the inappropriate use of analogies to the Nazi Genocide in Australian public debate.

The ECAJ is concerned that some of the media discourse has resorted to rhetoric that has been less disciplined than it should be. In particular we seek to discourage the use of imprecise analogies with the Nazi regime. One must acknowledge that there are significant historical differences between rag-tag groups of BDS protesters outside Max Brenner outlets in Australia and a campaign backed by the Nazi state and enforced by state-sanctioned Nazi thugs who picketed shops owned by Jews in Germany in the 1930’s.  Yet Nazis commenced their campaign as purportedly private action before there was government sanction for it.

In another context which has nothing to do with the BDS issue cartoons were recently published in a syndicated newspaper depicting Greens leader Bob Brown as a book-burning Nazi, complete with swastika arm-band, Gestapo cap and SA (Sturmabteilung) uniform. Prime Minister Julia Gillard was similarly portrayed. Even allowing for the usual latitude accorded to political cartoonists, nothing can justify comment of this nature. Political leaders are fair game for all kinds of criticism, but this exceeds the bounds of fairness and diminishes the uniquely evil character of the Nazi regime and the Holocaust.

Some BDS supporters have also been guilty of making inappropriate comparisons with the Nazi era. It is not uncommon to see placards at their demonstrations which depict the Israeli flag with a swastika at its centre in place of the Star of David or contain other images which, as referred to in the Working Definition of Antisemitism, draw comparisons between Israel and the Nazis. Clearly, BDS leaders and supporters are in no moral position to accuse others of lacking rhetorical virtue.

Rejecting inappropriate comparisons between the BDS campaign and Nazi Germany does not require us to accept the claim that the BDS protesters are merely opposed to Israeli government policies and actions with regard to the Palestinians, but are not in any way animated by anti-Jewish prejudice.  The BDS protests do not have to rise to the level of seriousness of the Nazi era in order, on occasion, to qualify as antisemitic.

Further, the BDS campaign is calculated to orchestrate public hatred, an ugly and unworthy tactic regardless of the alleged target.  The fact is that an unusually high percentage of Australian Jews are survivors of the Holocaust.  Nobody should callously dismiss the reaction of Australian Jews to the sight of Jewish-owned shops once more being picketed by chanting, aggressive demonstrators many of whose faces are contorted in hate, as can be seen on YouTube and other recordings of BDS events.   Even though the parallels to Nazi Germany are an historical over-statement, those who have suggested that that reaction is contrived should be ashamed of themselves.  The reaction is entirely genuine and understandable.

Nevertheless, the ECAJ is asking all of our political representatives who count themselves as supporters of Israel and opponents of BDS, and the media, to refrain from the inappropriate use of analogies to the Nazis, and to provide moral leadership to others to exercise restraint in their rhetoric. This is the right thing to do even if it is a vain hope that supporters of BDS will exercise a reciprocal responsibility to eliminate express or implicit antisemitism from their rhetoric.

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25 Comments »

  • Ittay says:

    Well Done ECAJ!
    I especially agree with this quote
    “One must acknowledge that there are significant historical differences between rag-tag groups of BDS protesters outside Max Brenner outlets in Australia and a campaign backed by the Nazi state and enforced by state-sanctioned Nazi thugs who picketed shops owned by Jews in Germany in the 1930’s.”

    There are many ways to express the view that BDS is not a constructive way to peace other than name calling.

    On a related issue, the more anti and pro BDS rally clips I see on youtube, the more I think that Vic Alhadeff was onto something when he wrote “Taking to the streets with Israeli flags around our shoulders and waving posters might make us feel good about ourselves for a fleeting moment, but it is counterproductive.

    No-one absorbs the message on the posters, counter-demonstrators become subsumed in the public eye with demonstrators, the confrontation buys publicity for BDS, and the ultimate response is “a plague on both your houses”.
    http://www.jewishnews.net.au/bds-to-protest-or-not-to-protest/22174

  • letters in the age says:

    ……Taking to the streets with Israeli flags around our shoulders and waving posters might make us feel good about ourselves for a fleeting moment, but it is counterproductive…..

    yep It’s tacky and looks very of ethnocentric.

  • Reuvain says:

    What a stupid long winded statement. Instead of seizing the moment and focusing squarely on the issue of their hostility towards Jews and the desire to destroy Israel with Palestine “from the river to the sea” it goes on forever. It should have been short, focused and to the point. The main argument is lost. PR messaging at its worst.

  • Morry says:

    I, too, am opposed to inappropriate Holocaust parallels, but have to ask, is this BDS campaign not very parallel to the ragtag nazi party of the early 1930s, in their equally gauche efforts to block patrons from entering Jewish shops, and their antisemitic grafitti? I don’t suggest that this group might gain the same levels of support that the nazis did, but the comparison to those early days, and to the ideology, is definitely appropriate. Does it really require members of this movement to be pushing Jews into gas chambers before we acknowledge glaring similarities?

  • Michael says:

    So why are Nazi comparisons by BDS people anti-Semitic, but nazi comparisons by anti-BDS people are merely rhetorical excesses?

  • frosh says:

    Michael,
    Are you suggesting that Nazi comparisons by BDS advocates are NOT anti-Semitic?

  • frosh says:

    Michael,
    The answer to your question is quite simple:

    The relationship between BDS advocates and those against BDS is not symmetrical.

    Just as the relationship between the Jewish people and those who try to demonise and delegitimize the Jewish people is not symmetrical.

  • Aaron says:

    I don’t agree at all Reuvain. There is a place for simple and direct PR, but maybe not here. I think that this argument is more complex, however. There is no point in taking arguments directly the people doing the picketing. They are more than likely dogmatic, and would just shout slogans at you.

    The argument needs to be taken to people who are not fixed or dogmatic, however do not see the hatred of the pickets. Some people might mistake the picket to be campaigning for human rights.

    You forget that most people do not think of the Middle East all day, every day. A civil, well-reasoned argument, such as this, is far better than another boring slogan which would do nothing but add to the volume of shouting, turning more people off than on.

  • Philip Mendes says:

    It is a useful statement. The BDS campaign is not Nazi-like, but this does not necessarily mean it is not anti-Semitic. It is one thing to oppose Israeli policies or actions which harm Palestinians or for that matter Palestinian actions which harm Israelis. It is another thing to say that Israelis are inherently evil, and should be demonized like no other people on earth. It is also important to look at the impact that BDS campaigns have had elsewhere on Jews, for example in the UK Academic and College Union, which I plan to do in the near future. There is no doubt that the BDS advocates are responsible for a strong climate of anti-Semitism in the UCU. But again this is not the same as Nazism.

    PM

  • Levi says:

    The usual repetitive tripe about “both sides”… blah blah. Always trying be holier-than-thou -very typical of mainstream Jewish organizations. Will Jews ever become normal and actually defend and fight for their rights rather than pretend to be err….ummm… “objective?” I have always respected African American and Muslim lobby groups because they never pretend to be objective and never compromise on defending their communities.

    Not fighting fire with fire is the actual cause of the problem and not the solution and this attitude paved the way to Auschwitz. In the nazi era many people – including some prominent liberal minded Jews in America – claimed that Hitler wasn’t necessarily antisemitic. His motivation in passing the Nuremberg laws and boycotting Jewish stores was merely a way to defend the rights of the oppressed German people….yes there were some extremist elements in the nazi party but Hitler himself was a man of reason…go figure. As the saying goes “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” There couldn’t be a more appropriate comparison between the BDS movement and the Nazis. Why deny it or revise history? The Bdsers with their blantant display of antisemitism and disruptive picketing of Jewish owned business in Australia have only themselves to blame for being compared to Nazis – they employ their tactics! When will we stop apologizing? Since when were the grievances of the Arab world against Israel ever legitimate? I challenge anyone here to name just one.

    The Holocaust was certainly not a unique event in history, confined or limited to one period. It can happen again and a combination of factors such as “compromising,” apologizing, ignorance and apathy is what could lead to it. All of these factors – which played a central role in bringing about the Oslo “peace” process and Gaza expulsion – directly lead to an increase in terror and anti jewish voilence with Israel being isolated on the international arena and faced with an annihilation once again. The situation is so bad that even a former ally- Turkey – is declaring war on Israel and Egypt is close to annulling it’s peace treaty. yet the Ecaj and the rest of the Jewish establishment will tell you that we have to make a lot of “painful” concessions because this will somehow bring about “peace” and invoke the sanctimonious “both sides” are right and wrong at the same time lie.

    I’ll end my rant with this – fighting fire with fire doesn’t necessarily mean violence or acting irrationally. In this case it should mean being strong, rational, resolute, unapologetic and calling a spade a spade. Something which the Ecaj failed to do with it’s press release.

  • Andrew Harris says:

    In support of Levi, I don’t see the value in attempting to muffle rabid BDS loonies by wrapping them and their rhetoric in cotton wool, and then attempting to play nice until they calm down, and let us all visit Max Brenner in peace.

    It’s very strange to me that ECAJ should go to such great lengths to delineate the lines of what it sees as acceptable and non-acceptable comparisons to Nazism and applications of the label of anti-Semitism. As far as I’m concerned, it’s entirely beside the point.

    It’s entirely unimportant whether or not Nazism is precisely the ideology of choice; there’s no need to be so precious. And that Jews often seem to be involved in and at the forefront of BDS activities is also irrelevant; it’s their choice to be so engaged, and their mere presence doesn’t lend the movement legitimacy, nor does it de-claw the beast.

    Frosh’s earlier comment about the lack of symmetry in this issue is the point — there’s no justification in what the BDS has wrought at Max Brenner and elsewhere. Bloodthirsty, necessarily violent sloganeering has demonstrated that the the supposedly high aims and objectives of the BDS movement are inextricably linked with hate.

  • Andrew Harris says:

    Seraphya posted his account of attempting to listen to the Max Brenner BDSers in another comment thread. I felt it would be instructive to repost it here:

    I tried to talk to some people involved in the max brenner thing about what they were hoping to accomplish and how what they were doing was probably counter-productive.
    It turns our that according to them:

    Israel needs to be destroyed because they are an outpost of western colonialism and even if they don’t regard themselves that way, it is true. And that like in Zimbabwe, any defective government that doesn’t involve the “white” Israelis is important to fight to the death for. Also the golani and givati brigades had as there mission to kill as many Palestinians as possible especially women and children. Max Brenner’s parent company gave care packages to soldiers and therefore Max Brenner must be brought down. Even if it is counter-productive it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it because it is a weapon at our disposal that we should use because we can.
    I can’t even make this stuff up. That last point is actually a little scary becauuse if they could get thier hands on bombs and even chemical weapons they didn’t rule out the use of them.

    What I don’t get though is why not boycott almost every company in the world the same way, for instance google just gave anyone in the American Armed Services with a .mil e-mail address free calls to the USA. I am sure they don’t support the wars in Iraq and Afganistan either.

    But if your problem is oppression and colonialism, they surely almost every coffee chain has issues, especially since we are talking about coffee beans. Nestle and Starbucks have gotten into trouble over mistreating workers and Gloria Jeans funds homophobic institutions and “rehab facilities” that are fronts for fake treatment with religious doctrine.

  • Seraphya Berrin says:

    Levi: It is important that we look rational and sane, especially if the other side looks crazed and radical. Talk to almost any uni student, they don’t want to get involved with these people even on causes they support because they look extreme.

    As to your challenge of legitimate grievances of the Arab world against Israel. I think a 40 year belligerent occupation in and of itself a reason to have a legitimate grievance.

  • Levi says:

    Hence my statement @ the end “fighting fire with fire doesn’t necessarily mean violence or acting irrationally.”

    rationality and sanity doesn’t imply being apologetic or bending over backwards. These two attributes directly led to the holocaust & in more recent times a dramatic increase in terror, voilence and warfare in the middle east and antisemitism around the world.

    Thanks to the “peace” process we have never been more insecure and at threat.

    “Talk to almost any uni student”

    I see that you’ve conducted a survey involving hundreds if not thousands of students. Generally Israel aint too popular with Uni students and staff anywhere in the world.

    “a 40 year belligerent occupation in and of itself a reason to have a legitimate grievance.”

    Did the Arabs have grievances against Israel prior to the “40 year beligirent occupation?” Were the thousands of terrorist massacres (bombings, shootings etc) and pogroms pre-1967 a part of this grievance?

    I’m not sure what “belligerent occupation” you’re refering to. Could be America’s occupation of Iraq? spanish occupation of the Basque? Australia’s occupation of aborigional land?

    Surely your not refering to the San remo conference & balfour declaration which would state the opposite of what your suggesting. The San remo conference itself sets the precendent for what the current status of this land is under international law. This is in addition the fact that this land was acquired through a defensive war and not a war of aggression.

    And who can forget a little known book called the Bible or even better the Koran (which interestingly does state that the land was given to and belongs to the Jews).

  • TheSadducee says:

    The reference to not boycotting Intel & Microsoft and other large companies is important to note.

    Remember that the Marrickville Council investigated the option of replacing their IT systems to fit in with their boycott goals and came back with a multi-million dollar estimate to do this. This of course would have been funded by their majority non-interested constituent’s dollars.

    The majority non-interested people quickly became interested and hostile towards what was going to cost them a lot of money when they became aware of it to fit in with what was really an elitist luxury i.e. a tiny minority of hard-left politically leaning Australians boycotting all of Israel (despite individual positions) on behalf of the Palestinians incl. Hamas – a reactionary religious militia which stands for everything those on the left are (or should be!) against.

    Subsequently the boycott idea was dropped in this regard – and the strategy to target the big (and costly to boycott) companies has been dropped in public discourse because virtually no-one will support it and it makes the advocates look extreme and foolish – they are talking about using other peoples money to support their personal ideas and views.

    I think the statement was good – it needs to be balanced because the quickest retort you’ll read will suggest that every criticism of Israel is met with a response of anti-semitism etc – thereby diverting the issue from what it is focussing on.

    Best thing to do is get footage (visual/audio) of anything that is racist, harmful etc and highlight this to the organisers and public and call the organisers out publicly – why are they supporting racism, hate speech etc, esp. if they consider themselves of the left or moderate?

    A photo is worth a thousand words – you can show people what these people are pushing and ask them do they want to be involved with this sort of extremism? You’ll find the majority wont.

  • Reality Check says:

    The BDS protests, although legal, bare elements of the Nazi boycotts in Germany and therefore there too are elements of antisemitism in them. That is quite a seperate comparison to equating Israel will Nazism. And many of the slogans used are not only racist, they advocate genecide. From the river to the sea: Where does that leave the Jewish people who inhabit Israel. It follows, therefore that the protests who chant or display those slogans and try to block the entrances to Max Brenner are indeed antisemitic.

  • TheSadducee says:

    Reality Check

    Perhaps you should address your questions/assertions about anti-semitism amongst the protestors to the AJDS – they suggest that the protestors are not anti-semites despite the river to the sea comments and others…

  • Reality Check says:

    The Sadducee, send in their address.

  • Sam says:

    RC

    It is very enterprising of you to offer to send your protestations re the BDS to the AJDS. These are the 2011-12 committe members for AJDS directly copied from their web-site.

    [Eds: names and email addresses removed.]

  • Larry Stillman says:

    Given that I have just noticed this attempt to slag off at AJDS, I ask people to carefully read the position and the discussion about why the Executive has taken the position it has @ http://ajds.org.au/node/424.

    I think it explains why we have taken the position we have about some of the protestors, some of whom I have personally spent more time than I wish arguing with online.

    My view is they are not antisemites, but they are playing with fire by raising disturbing memories. Regrettably, they believe their tactics outside the chocolate shop contribute to positive (!) consciousness-raising, including awareness in the Jewish community and of course they achieve the exact opposite which is justice for Palestinians, something which AJDS supports, along with an equitable solution for Israel.

    And Australians for Palestine, which supports BDS, has distanced itself from the chocolate shop tactics.

  • Mandi Katz says:

    Larry – I agree with the thrust of your comments here but with respect I think your last comment is not quite right.

    This statement from AFP at http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/48438

    “For the record, Australians for Palestine was not part of the protests against the Max Brenner store. Having said that, we must make it clear that we believe that Max Brenner and other Israeli owned businesses that support violations of human rights are legitimate targets for the boycott call.”

    This kind of boycott is quite consistent with BDS.

  • TheSadducee says:

    Larry

    No attempt to “slag off” the AJDS – merely remarking that you guys have a different perspective i.e. the AJDS don’t believe the protestors are antisemitic.

    You should be thanking me for plugging your group rather than chiding me! :)

  • CB says:

    “we believe that Max Brenner and other Israeli owned businesses”

    It just goes to show how uninformed these protesters are. The Australian Max Brenner shops are owned by an Australian company, owned by another Australian company, whose shareholders are Australian citizens. The Israeli Max Brenner company does not own these Australian companies, but supplies a lot of their stock (i.e the chocolate) and receives royalties from the Australian company for use of the Max Brenner name. The Australian company has no say in who Elite Strauss give or sell their chocolate to. If the BDS-holes cannot get these simple facts straight, then anything else they claim should not be taken too seriously.

    Or is the problem that the owners are Jewish??

  • Jean Vercors says:

    Eds: Comment removed as it links to a video containing ‘photo-shopped’ content designed to purport factual misrepresentations.

  • Reallity Check says:

    Larry, does the AJDS also support any Palestinian organizations that promote peace and would accepted any of the peace deals Israel offered Mr. Arafat?

    Larry having just read what you said on the Insight program on SBS re: Iran’s nuclear ambitions, in tha AJN (2/3), about if Israel make peace with the Palestinians, do you honestly think that that’s what Ahmadinedej wants and is persuing an atomic
    bomb, you really live in lala land

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