Why I'm Boycotting Israel
by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown
The Independent (liberal), London, England,
April 1 5, 2002
[World Press Review, July 2002]
First, let me say the following as clearly and loudly as I
can: I have fought against anti-Semitism all my life, against
friends, colleagues, lovers, anyone who expressed anti-Jewish
My 9-year-old daughter was taken to see The Merchant of Venice
in the week when all her friends were flooding to Harry Potter
because we feel she needs to understand anti-Semitism as it arises
around the world once again. I refused to support the U.N. conference
against racism in Durban because I feared it would give license
to people to abuse Jews, and it did. And as I observe the hatred
of Jews among many Muslims here and around the world, I feel shame
I condemn the acts of suicide bombers whose own hopelessness
makes them target Israelis in cafes, at weddings, in street markets,
by each act blowing away peace and progress. Israel-as it was
originally created-has an absolute right to exist and flourish
But Israel has absolutely no right to do what it wants, to
use overpowering weaponry against mostly unarmed people (we will
never know how many are being killed in the current deluge), and
justify that by referring to the horrendous history which led
to the creation of the Jewish homeland.
In fact, I would suggest that Ariel Sharon should be tried
for crimes against humanity in Sabra, Shatila, and Jenin, and
be damned too for so debasing the profoundly important legacy
of the Holocaust, which was meant to stop forever nations turning
themselves into ethnic killing machines.
Remind yourself of this. Read the gripping new biography of
Primo Levi by Carole Angier, The Double Bond, to understand the
inimitable humanity of great Jewish thinkers. Levi's painstaking
testimonies about what happened in Auschwitz avoid the traps of
special pleading. He surely would not have been able to witness
without protest the depravity of the current Israeli leadership.
Sharon can only carry on with his invasion of the West Bank
because Colin Powell and his master in the White House crumble
before his brutish ways and the U.S. pro-lsraeli lobby. He knows
too he has the blind support of Americans and Britons whose anti-Arab
racism has this year reached new lows.
One columnist writing in a U.S. journal captures the view
held by many. "lsraeli tanks should mow down Arab youths
as they throw stones. Kill them. Keep going until the Arabs decide
whether they hate Jews more than they love their children."
So do we just blink back our tears and wait for these deaths?
No. That would be like killing all imagination and optimism. I
have just come back from Cape Town, where I met inspirational
people who fought those long, long years against apartheid. They
gave me courage that all is not lost. We don't have to depend
on craven British ministers who still insist on blaming Arafat
(no saint he) more than they can bring themselves to accuse Sharon.
These South African liberationists have already persuaded
many people not to buy anything from Israel. No, they admit, apartheid
was not exactly the same as what is happening in Palestine. Yet,
they recognize familiarities: the racism against Arabs which fuels
hard-line leaders; the systematic violence and humiliation; the
bulldozers which evoke such trembling memories in many South Africans.
They have not forgotten either that Israel for many years
supported apartheid and that some Tories thought white South African
rulers were just fine people. Nelson Mandela was declared a terrorist
for not denouncing the use of violence against the iniquitous
system built on a state of heightened paranoia, just like Israel
I think we-all those who want Israel to leave the occupied
territories-should follow their example. I have started looking
at labels and putting back anything made in Israel. Friends are
doing the same. We are emailing organizations-not those based
on religion because Palestinians are not only Muslims-but any
that want a world committed to universal human rights. Money will
count more than words. The United States will not be able to prop
up Israel's economy forever; these hard wars are expensive.
We should call on unions, especially Equity, to advise artists
to cut relations with Israel. Exchange trips should be off; no
holidays in sunny Eilat (perhaps this is happening already because
of fear); even Christian pilgrims to the holy places could ask
if God may want them to delay the trip. These actions are not
directed at Jewish people but at the Israeli government. We will
not, for example, stop buying from shops in Britain owned by Jewish
I was heartened to find out that others are doing their bit.
Professors Stephen and Hilary Rose have started a boycott of cultural,
academic, and research links with Israel. They have collected
300 names across Europe. Jewish academics have signed up too.
The signatories know that this means cutting off much that
is of value. There are hundreds of joint research projects between
Arab and Israeli academic institutions-scarce spaces where decent
dialogue has been conducted. But I think they are right to sign
up because we are in the middle of an unprecedented inferno which
politicians are doing nothing to quell.
We know some Israeli soldiers are rejecting Sharon's strategy
and that small peace groups keep going- enduring calls of treachery
and worse every time another suicide bomber goes off.
Several Jewish women who work for human rights are making
their objections heard. As one Jewish South African friend, an
artist who lives in London, put it: "l owe it to my father
who fought against apartheid and my grandfather who died in Germany
not to let my people turn into fascists. Don't name me, but I
say that many of us are beginning to think that Israel is a burden
on our backs instead of the imagined haven we grew up thinking
She is not alone. These brave Jewish dissidents and others
who refuse to cower will stop the tanks; if not, at least they
will ensure that the nameless hundreds who are being killed did
not die undefended as the world looked on. So remember to read
the label; put it back if it is made in Israel. You will know
you did a little something.