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Burns Night for Israel: Scotland’s Literary Shame

A place that boycotts books is not far from a place that burns them.

by
Ben Cohen

Bio

May 26, 2011 - 12:02 am
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The long-established ideological obsessions about Jews underlying these activities puncture the misconception that a boycott of Israel, whether generalized or targeted, is simply a tactic to change Israeli policy. Boycotting is the tangible expression of a visceral opposition to Jewish empowerment that, as the anti-Semitism scholar Robert Wistrich observed back in 1990, observes in Zionism a “code word for the forces of reaction in general.”

West Dunbartonshire, in fact, was an early adopter of this outlook. The area is home to the city of Dundee which, back in 1980, flew a Palestinian flag from the parapet of its town hall after being twinned with the West Bank town of Nablus. The prime mover behind that particular gesture was a local Labor Party organizer named George Galloway, later to become a member of the British parliament, an ally and confidante of British Islamists, a drooler in the presence of Saddam Hussein, and, most recently, a craven apologist for the Ba’athist regime of Bashar al Assad in Syria.

Anti-Zionism belongs to the Galloways of this world, those for whom the original sin of Israel’s creation is the basic condition for understanding and responding to the push and pull of global events. Charles Maurras, a nineteenth century French rabble-rouser, rejoiced in anti-Semitism’s ability to “enable everything to be arranged, smoothed over and simplified.” Anti-Zionism functions in much the same way.

As I’ve discovered over the years, there is little point in debating with people who regard the world in this manner. I’ve discovered, too, that they thrive when their ideas gain mainstream acceptance, and they shrink when these same ideas are marginalized.

A shove to the margins is what will happen if Britain’s literary class, painfully silent thus far, elects to confront the rot in West Dunbartonshire’s libraries. Sure, some of its leading lights do regard Israel, in the words of a former French ambassador to London, as a “shitty little country” that invites harsh treatment, even if they’d concede that a literary boycott is a tad on the crude side. Yet this is not a uniform view.

The novelist Ian McEwan, for example, was recently awarded the Jerusalem Prize, inadvertantly becoming a poster child for Israel’s political tolerance when he slammed its policies in his acceptance speech. Other writers, notably Martin Amis, Zadie Smith, and Salman Rushdie, hardly seem amenable to anti-Zionist witch-hunts. And what about Irvine Welsh, whose drug-soaked fables from bleak Scottish streets have been translated “into 20 different languages, including Hebrew”? He, surely, is exquisitely positioned to demand an about-turn in West Dunbartonshire.

Let us, therefore, keep an ear out for the outrage of the British literati. And let’s remember that, as long as they remain mute, there’s a danger that Burns Night will adopt an altogether more sinister meaning.

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Ben Cohen is a writer and media consultant based in New York City. He writes a column for The Huffington Post and regularly contributes opinion pieces and blogs at The Jerusalem Post, Harry's Place, Tablet, Congress Blog and many other online and print publications. His scholarly work includes the monograph "The Ideological Foundations of the Boycott Campaign Against Israel," published by the American Jewish Committee, as well as analytical papers for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and the Institute for Jewish Policy Research. He has also appeared as a commentator for a range of broadcasters.
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