Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Bob from Brockley causes an international diplomatic incident

I live in south east London, and frequently go to a vegetarian cafe in New Cross called Cafe Crema. Over the years, I have used this blog to plug various events there (see, e.g., here and here). When its landlord, Goldsmiths University, threatened it with eviction, I signed a petition in its defence. The food is OK, the cakes are gorgeous, the coffee is good, the ambiance is nice. In particular I like the music: its proprietor, Chris Boddigton, shares my tastes in Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, the Blind Boys of Alabama. His staff are on a more world music (and especially Brazilian) tip.

The cafe has always worn Chris' pro-Palestinian policies pretty prominently on its sleave. It sells Zaytoun olive oil. There are maps of the encroachment of the Settlements on Palestinian lands. Earlier this year, a blackboard which changes its content regularly started saying "Please boycott Israel. Thank you." Then, a few weeks ago, as I noted here, this changed to something like "We don't sell any Israeli goods. We are not anti-semitic; we are anti-fascist. Jews are as welcome here as anyone else." While I believe that any private individual or business has the right to buy or not buy from anyone they choose, there was something about that "Jews are as welcome here as anyone else" that made me feel really uncomfortable. My posting provoked a (for this blog) extensive debate.

Chris replied here, rather perfunctorily and intemperately. This prompted a long response from David Hirsh, a customer of the cafe, articulating more or less my view.
"But now I don't feel as though I'm welcome there anymore, in spite of the sign which says that Jews are welcome. Or perhaps because of that sign."
I think that Chris took some of the responses to heart, including the way a "Jews welcome" sign makes people feel. He replied:
"Fair enough, I can now see that it was a mistake to write ‘Jews are as welcome here as anyone else’ in that it has been taken, by many people, in exactly the opposite way that it was intended (but perhaps I should have foreseen that – I apologise)."
However, he didn't get a lot of the other points.

David also posted his comment on Engage, and that elicited a very heated debate. Chris' response provoked even more. Then the issue was taken up by the Jewish Chronicle and the Jerusalem Post - the latter mentioning this blog. Predictably, anti-Zionists like Deborah Fink and Mark Elf are now going to Cafe Crema to demonstrate their solidarity. The latter describes this site as "the blog of a zionist", which might make some of my Zionist readers chuckle. (I recently posted a comment asking what made him think I'm a Zionist: still awaiting moderation.)

Equally predictably, some Engage readers are calling for a boycott of Crema, or for pressure to be put on Goldsmiths as their landlord to get Chris to change his policy. I think this is utterly wrong. As David says, "most people involved in the boycott campaign are not Jew-haters. They have just stumbled into antisemitic politics." I believe in winning the arguments, persuading people - not in issuing counter-boycotts or using indirect legal pressure.

I have also been thinking about what it means when someone takes a particular interest in an issue, in a lop-sided way. Chris acknowledges that Palestine is his passion, his issue - but also that it is not necessarily the most important issue. My sister used to be very involved in Central American politics, and if there was such a thing, say, as Contra wine, she would have boycotted it - without claiming that Central America is the most important issue in the world. People have the right to have these sorts of passions. Unfortunately, though, there is a cultural matrix by which Israel-Palestine has become unlike other regional issues. It has become a shibboleth, a cultural code by which certain sorts of people recognise each other. This is partly what makes Chris' stance hard to deal with but important to respond to.

P.S. More from Modernity (1 & 2).

24 comments:

The Contentious Centrist said...

"The latter describes this site as "the blog of a zionist", which might make some of my Zionist readers chuckle. (I recently posted a comment asking what made him think I'm a Zionist: still awaiting moderation.)"

The need to make this comment suggests that Bob, basically, does not dispute foul "anti-Zionists" like Elf and Fink their claim that there is something morally reprehensible about loving Israel and wanting to see it prospering as a JEWISH democracy.

Reminds me of another blogger hereabouts who posts about fighting antisemitism from time to time but has made it scrupulously clear that as a personal choice, he has never visited Israel, has never lived among Jews nor has he any desire to ever live among Jews.

If antisemites are bad people, then how good is your fight against it, when you end up, in effect, pandering to and sharing their distaste for the proximity of Jews?

If like Bob, you consider that boycotting Israelis and Israel is ethically indefensible, how does it reinforce your argument and position to declare that in fact you are not a Zionist?

Isn't that what Chris of Cafe Crema tried to assert with his blackboard message? A space is made in my coffee shop for good Jews and "non-Zionists"?

Here is what Isaiah Berlin on the subject:

"Of course assimilation might be a quite good thing, but it doesn't work. Never has worked, never will. There isn't a Jew in the world known to me who somewhere inside him does not have a tiny drop of uneasiness vis-a-vis them, the majority among whom they live ... one has to behave particularly well ... [or] they won't like us." When, according to Berger, "it was suggested to him that he was surely the exception ... that he had been saluted, cherished and accepted with pride in England ... he had an immediate response: `Nevertheless, I'm not an Englishman, and if I behave badly ...'" (1997: C. 24, original emphasis). Arendt might have phrased the point somewhat differently: "I'm not an Englishman but an exceptional Jew, and that is precisely one reason why they salute me. But if I act like an ordinary Jew...."

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2267/is_4_66/ai_60869074/pg_2?tag=content;col1

How come the Irish have no problem proclaiming their Irishness? Has anyone ever met an American or a Canadian of Irish descent who has apologized for the fact that they care deeply about Ireland and in fact, some of their best friends are Irish?

nwo said...

Your sisters interest in Latin American politics was also a cultural code. Its just one that Leftists in general share....that is why Leftist who came out on the side of American invasion of Iraq, were villified so. They were granting moral authority to the Great Satan.

Im not a great lover of Jews or Jewishness, when compared to my love of Ireland and Irish culture. However Im not a hater, and somewhat indifferent about them. I have serious political disagreements with domestic US Jews, generally speaking. However I support Israel in its fight against Islamo Fascism. Though Israel and Jews have been by no means perfect, it should be clear to anyone that Israel is much preferable to any of the Muslim majority countries around that area(that is why Western reporters many of whom are not pro Israel all stay in Israel when covering the conflict...instead of Gaza or the West Bank as a strong generalization).

I have sympathy and support the IRA and Sinn Fein, in there quest to see the Brits leave the island of Ireland....to finally after so many centuries (nearly a millenia) leave Ireland and reliquish the first English imperial conquest(as it has relinquished other holdings around the globe).

Western Leftists seem to be driven not by blood or common ideology, but by common cause, Anti Westernism, and having lost most of their communist power base in the Soviet Union, have allied with any nastiness any reactionary and hatefilled ideology, in comradery against the West and in particular the USA.

So it makes sense to form an alliance with the next pretender to teh throne (after the Cold War ended dissasterously) Islam, the reactionary far Religious Right(which make the Christian Religous Right seems like Enlightenment gurus). These new allies give the Left a new power base in which to assault the Western Democracies and America in particular. The price for this alliance is Israel.

The Contentious Centrist said...

With respect, NWO, I don't much care for your "support" for Jews or Israel, which has more to do with your own pet peeves than with any universal value or principle. You can never roll back the effect of your pronouncement on my blog that Jews seek to undermine and destroy Western civilization. That size of paranoia is mind boggling.

BTW, Israel doesn't fight Islamo-fascism. Israel is at war for its existence and the shape of its borders.

kellie said...

I travel on an Irish passport by choice, but have on occasion had difficulty making clear to folk who like simple categories that I am not an Irish nationalist of any kind.

Ireland was not the first English imperial conquest, it was the second Norman conquest.

TNC said...

"Then the issue was taken up by the Jewish Chronicle and the Jerusalem Post - the latter mentioning this blog."

Awesome, dude. Totally awesome.

nwo said...

I dont have a Jewish paranoia Noga. The fact of the matter is that Jews in the US have led the charge in promoting minority rights, interests, and cultures over the majorities rights, interests, and culture. And I mean way past pushing for equal opportunity and equality before the law. This position is just self interest expressing itself, and perhaps radicalized by high sounding principle.

Isarel has forced some Jews to understand the majority (ethnicity and religious affiliation) of a nation states pov. The majority have rights, interests, and culture too....and defending those is not racist, bigoted, or otherwise a sign of nefariousness and ill will towards others. Before Jews only had minority status and ill treatment from which to formulate a worldview and political mindset.

My support of Israel is not dependent upon your adoration or affection. Its based in high principle and also more fleetingly self interest.

Its sad to hear that you think Israel would not join the fight against IslamoFascism if it wasnt for its existential conflict. Very sad indeed...that seems to be the Western Lefts dominant position. I happen to think better of it and its people.

I must admit to some schadenfreude on the matter....of the radicalized (in no small part thanks to Jewish intellectual prowess and leadership) into its anti racism, anti imperialism, anti globalization/captialism, radical egalitarianism, anti Westernism....taking that radicalism and applying it to Israel in teh same manner that they have been voraciously attacking Western Europe(and particular the USA) for decades now. Id much rather not have to deal with this radicalized Indecent Western Left, and I dont wish them success in their attacks against Israel. But it is quite the irony, that Jews are now having to combat a monster that they had a good hand in creating. We can use their intellectual prowess and tenacity in that endevour.

Welcome NeoCons and the Decent Left!

nwo said...

This bit edited in bold for clarity.

-----

I must admit to some schadenfreude on the matter....of the radicalized (in no small part thanks to Jewish intellectual prowess and leadership) into its anti racism, anti imperialism, anti globalization/captialism, radical egalitarianism, anti Westernism....taking that radicalism and applying it to Israel in teh same manner that they(THE WESTERN LEFT), have been voraciously attacking Western Europe(and particular the USA) for decades now.


The Western Convervative has Enlightenment principles, Democratic values but also its majority populations have cultrual and other self interests. Its not an evil force in the world....its a force for good. In a way Burke is the model for anti radicalism and the slow march toward progress, and due respect for tradition and the past....not rushing to hasty revolutions and societal experiments...yet not rejecting the Western(especialy Anglo) tradition of reform and liberty. Radical Egalitarianism is the enemy of the good and the enemy of diversity.

nwo said...

BTW Bob, congrats on your quote in JP. Its really nice to get some recognition like.

ModernityBlog said...

Bob,

you are very gracious to Cafe Creme's Chris, two points:

1. Chris didn't really make any effort to engage with the issues, despite his "pro-Palestinian policies", surely if he had genuinely took a real interest then he would have made that effort

2. I think Chris's attitude is too common amongst pro-boycotters, parrot some slogans, say "some of my best friends, accountant are...", etc get indignant when challanged intellectually on the issue, then go off in a huff.

It is not about reason, but an emotional response, which is why it is so dangerous in my view, without a rational basis for such views it is very easy to slip, even inadvertently, into prejudice.

Cheers :)

Anonymous said...

"...some Engage readers are calling...for pressure to be put on Goldsmiths as their landlord... I think this is utterly wrong. ..I believe in winning the arguments, persuading people..."

Well, if you truly so believe, how about engaging in debate on the principles that could cause Goldsmiths to take action against Crema?

As the Engage blogger wrote:

"...Goldsmith’s College is a publicly funded institution. It has no business allowing its tenants to engage in boycott campaigns against any national, ethnic or religious groups. They should be brought to heel, and if they refuse to force Cremona to reverse, they should be stripped of their grants."

So, Bob, what is your British Bundist take on public funded support for anti-Israeli agitprop? You give the impression that if such discrimination were carried out against any other national group, you'd be calling for all manner of practical action against it, but you're passive and willing to tolerate it in the case of Israel.

bob said...

1. On not being a Zionist: I am not a Zionist because I am not a nationalist. I am not an anti-Zionist except insofar as I am an anti-nationalist - I am an anti-Zionist, perhaps, in the way I am "anti-" Irish nationalism, say, or "anti-" British nationalism.

I don't buy into the logic of anti-Zionism, because I see no reason to be against one nationalism and one nationalism only. Either you support the right of self-determination for nations and you support the right of national self-determination for Jews, or you oppose the right of self-determination for nations and you reject Zionism along with all other Zionisms. Anyone who defines themselves as an anti-Zionist is lopsidely obsessed with one nation. There may perhaps be good faith reasons to be lopsidedly obsessed with Israel, but these are surely outweighed by the bad faith reasons, such as antisemitism.

I make no particular effort to distinguish myself from Zionists. I was, as much as anything, curious to see how Elf would respond. This is how he responds:
"I just assumed that you are one, that's all. I can't remember why and I can't be bothered to check. I must have a notion that you think Israel is within its rights to be a state specifically for Jews and that Jews, their immediate descendants and dependants are entitled to more right to citizenship than the native non-Jewish population."

Just assumed.

***

I am tempted, these days, to identify as a Zionist in the spirit of Hannah Arendt's dictum (as Noga quoted her in a comment above) that "If I am attacked as a Jew, I defend myself as a Jew." Jews today are primarily attacked as Zionists, and this, and this only, makes me identify with Zionism.

2. On putting pressure on Goldsmiths:

"...Goldsmith’s College is a publicly funded institution. It has no business allowing its tenants to engage in boycott campaigns against any national, ethnic or religious groups. They should be brought to heel, and if they refuse to force Cremona to reverse, they should be stripped of their grants."

So, Bob, what is your British Bundist take on public funded support for anti-Israeli agitprop? You give the impression that if such discrimination were carried out against any other national group, you'd be calling for all manner of practical action against it, but you're passive and willing to tolerate it in the case of Israel.


I don't see a public body having a tenant who engages in anti-Israeli agitprop as "public support for anti-Israeli agitprop". I think landlords should refrain from interfering with the political expression of their tenants except in the most extreme situations. I think there is a world of difference between a private business engaging in an economic boycott and a public institution engaging in a boycott.

I think that the line between an economic boycott of a country's products and an academic or cultural boycott of a country's citizens is blurry in reality, but not altogether insignificant. I think businesses and individuals have the right to buy from who or where they want. I think businesses and individuals have the right to include political and moral considerations in their buying decisions. For all these reasons, I think Goldsmiths would be on very shaky ground putting pressure on their tenants in this way.

But, more importantly, I think it would be a political mistake to take the line of litigation and counter-boycott, as this cedes the political argument to the boycotters. We need to win over the type of people who eat in Cafe Crema, make them understand the connection between anti-Zionism and antisemitism, make them think about what it means to single out one nation as uniquely evil. To do this, we need to present the political arguments, not present legal ultimatums.

kellie said...

On Noga's notion that the Irish have an uncomplicated relationship with national identity, to counter again with another less personal example, consider that the two writers most honoured in the Irish literary canon chose not to live in Ireland. Their relationship with national identity was very complex indeed.

kellie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

bob--

well said! its always infuriating, disheartening even, when the very possibility of argument or dialogue is shut down before it can even begin. in fact the arrogant dismissiveness of elf's statement ("i just assumed...") and chris' failure to actually engage with any of the statements made in the comments section seem to be the favorite stance or even tactic of most of these boycotters--to withdraw and sulk, but to avoid any substantive discussion or argument, except to hurl a few ready-made pronouncements as if they were ideological hand grenades. and there's no reason to reduplicate what they themselves do. one can not fight bad faith with more bad faith.

that said, your (and ignoblus') comment about shibboleths and cultural codes underscore the real difficulty here. i think for many of these boycotters, their politics has less to do with any kind of organized strategy to change the balance of social forces, i.e. praxis, and much more to do with the manipulation of symbols. and the real purpose of those symbols have less to do with the issue at hand--israel and palestine--and much more to do with the status and identity of those who are the bearers of these symbols. frankly, i often feel that many boycotters are driven by a need to demonstrate publicly or semi-publicly just how "pure" they are, how separate and removed from those they have labeled as "evil." i suspect that many of these people would be much more comfortable with something like religion with it's attendant notions of purity and a rigorous code of conduct to enforce it. but then, that seems to be so much a part of the times we're living through. it's a tough nut to crack all right.

i guess the question i'm asking is what should our political response be when so much effort and energy is being expended to treat us as a pariah folk again, even to the extent that similar mechanisms of "polite" antisemitism are being deployed--to set up a social space
whereby a whole category of people can be excluded? even, or especially, if that's being done unwittingly? but i still agree with you, a counter-boycott does not seem to be the way to go.

les

kellie said...

On defending oneself under the label applied by one's attacker:

Several years ago my father and I were in a café, in Denmark, not London, and he fell into conversation with a man who turned out to be politically on the far right. This man was declaring how much he detested socialists, but then went on to say that he hated liberals even more. 'In that case,' said my father, 'for you I'm a liberal.'

ModernityBlog said...

Bob,

I wouldn't worry what Elf says about you

you'll get more sense out of a dead budgie than Elf :)

nwo said...

“Other people have a nationality. The Irish and the Jews have a psychosis.” Brendan Behan

A said...

Hurrah! http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/apr/03/israel-gaza-attacks-boycotts-food-industry

Anonymous said...

A--

Thanks for that. For those who think boycotts are quite dumb here is a a link to a list of links where you can purchase Israeli goods online: http://judaism.about.com/od/directfromisraelshops/Shop_in_Israel.htm . Unfortunately this list does not include Judaica Mall (where stuff is cheaper). Here's the link to Judaica Mall: http://www.judaica-mall.com/

Everyone else--enjoy your freedom fries.

Regards,

Inna

This Is Hell said...

I don't understand how Mark Elf gets away with being called an antizionist. He's a flat out racist antisemitic bigot who would get a raging hardon if every Jew on the planet were vaporized.

And really, all you need do is march around in front of the cafe, cause a huge problem, wait for them to come outside. Then call them thin skinned fascist racist morons, call for their expulsion from England and wait for them to get really angry. Then smash the windows.

Those tactics work for them, there's no earthly reason why they can't be used against them.

Judith said...

Bob, I'm with you on your 10:10 comment. I've thought about this and I think there was some meaning in being a zionist before the state of Israel was established, but now it's like being pro-English. It doesn't make sense unless you are part of a movement to secede from the rest of GB.

There is meaning in being anti-zionist, however. It means that of all the nations in the world, the Jewish people are not entitled to self-determination.

Cyrus said...

Bob

Your last paragraph identifies the heart of the matter with great perceptiveness, but surely ends up cutting Chris and his like too much slack.

'Chris acknowledges that Palestine is his passion, his issue - but also that it is not necessarily the most important issue.'

Let's be crystal clear about what that means. Sudan and China, to name but two, are by any conceivable objective measure far, far worse human rights offenders than Israel. Yet Chris is not into boycotting them. Because it's not his passion. What gets him worked up is the wrongs of the state run by Jews.

And the simple question then is, if that can't be called anti-Semitism, what can be?

I am sure it is central to Chris's self-image that he sees himself as having a rational and universalistic concern for the welfare of human beings. But it's clearly not the case. His concerns are driven by passion and, as one would expect where passions are engaged, they are particularistic. He cares about some people more than others, some wrongs more than others.

So far so human. I don't claim to be in any way different. But what is crucial is that in what I am moved to do by passion I should be accountable before the court of reason. I may act on my passions, but only if I can show that it is reasonable to do so. That is what civilized people accept and fascists reject.

And clearly reason ought to be ringing particularly loud warning bells where passions start being directed against Jews - however squeaky clean the ostensible justifications may be.

If 'my passion, my issue' was exposing crimes committed by black people, would you say I was within my rights, in much the same way as I have a right to become passionate about collecting train numbers? Or would you simply call me a racist?

Notwithstanding the disagreement, congratulations on the exemplary stand you've taken on this.

Anonymous said...

the spat between nwo and contentious centrist points out a shitty situation for jews. those who want to destroy us and those who supposedly support us, are both maniacs projecting their onw issues onto us. the antisemites see us as the incarnation of the worst form of capitalist development (imperialism), and the philosemites see as the forefront in the "struggle against islamofascism".
and we are stuck between these two forces. those who want to destroy us, and those who will destroy us through turning us into their weapons.
oy gevalt1

Chiang Mai said...

PDN has not responded to the accusations of passive racism, so it is hard to say whether it is an oversight on their part, or something more sinister. It appears more to be a symptom of the culture.