Bob from Brockley causes an international diplomatic incident
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).