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Enter the Counter Boycott

October 27, 2011 – 11:47 am7 Comments

West Dunbartonshire Coat of Arms

Previously, we’ve seen Buycott Israel as  a response to the BDS against Israel. However, some Jewish organisations have responded with counter boycotts. Simon Morawetz reports on a recent example in Australia.

In 2009, West Dunbartonshire Council (WDC) approved a boycott of all Israeli made and produced goods. The attention that this relatively small Glaswegian council’s decision got was remarkable, sparking outrage from Jewish communities across the globe.

In response, many Jewish communities initiated a counter-boycott of all goods made in West Dunbartonshire. As any reputable Scottish region would insist, this includes several whisky distilleries. One of the products of these distilleries is a staple in kosher households around Caulfield: Glenlivet.

Yeshiva Shul is one entity that decided not to purchase Glenlivet this year and instead explore other options. It went with Glen Moray this year. Eli Belfer, the man responsible for alcohol purchases (among other things) at the Shul, was in contact with WDC, who were unwilling to resurrect any discussion on the basis for the policy. However, they were willing to clarify any misconceptions regarding its application. WDC are aware of the counter-boycott, but Yeshiva will formally write to them in the coming weeks to confirm the action and put pressure on them to remove the policy.  The Council did say that they may reconsider it in future, though they gave no reason to believe that it would be reversed.

For the record, Glenlivet did not respond to my email offering them a comment on the matter.

It is important to note that not all distilleries in West Dunbartonshire agree with their council’s policy. Auchentoshan is one example of a distillery that has continued to support Israel and Judaism, and produces a range of kosher whiskies. Nevertheless, the council’s policy remains in place and shows no immediate signs of moving. Hence the retaliatory counter-boycott.

Which begs two questions. The first is: what impact, if any, will the retaliation have? Although Yeshiva’s standard order is indeed a significant one, in the grand scheme of things, it is little more than a drop in the ocean. Whether its impact will be felt strongly enough to prompt a swift reconsideration of the council’s policy is doubtful at best, a pipedream at worst.

Generally, boycotts are more symbolic than financial in their impact. Just as Yeshiva’s order will hardly be felt by Glenlivet, who manufacture millions of bottles of whisky every year, West Dunbartonshire’s boycott of Israeli made or produced goods will hardly make an impact on Israel’s Balance of Payments.

The second question is: does that render the action negligible?

Of course, it doesn’t. It was not the financial ramification for Israel that people got worked up about when the WDC made its decision. Rather, it was its anti-Semitic nature, and the threat of a domino effect spreading the boycott of Israeli goods across Scotland, the UK, Europe, or perhaps the world.

Similarly, although WDC may not feel the counter-boycott in its hip pocket, the mere fact of the action may be enough for it to hasten its reconsideration of the policy. Hopefully, when that day comes, they have the sense to abandon it.

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